Jury rules against Wichita doctor, in favor of opioid victim

0

FILE - This file photo from August 15, 2017 shows an arrangement of opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen pills in New York City.  The American Dental Association on Monday, March 26, 2018, said it was pushing for seven-day prescription limits and mandatory training that encourages the use of other pain relievers.  (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

FILE – This file photo from August 15, 2017 shows an arrangement of opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen pills in New York City. The American Dental Association on Monday, March 26, 2018, said it was pushing for seven-day prescription limits and mandatory training that encourages the use of other pain relievers. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Associated Press file photo

A jury has ruled in favor of the family of a man who fatally overdosed on prescribed medication for post-traumatic stress disorder after being injured in the Excel Industries mass shooting.

The Sedgwick County jury earlier this month decided on a $2.57 million award in favor of Nicholas Moon’s family, although his family could receive far less than that.

Moon was 30 when he died of an overdose in December 2017, after being prescribed medication by Dr. Elsie Steelberg, a former Wichita psychiatrist whom he started seeing after being shot at Excel in 2016. Mass shooting in Hesston left three dead and 14 injured.

Moon left behind a wife and a pre-teen son.

The jury ruled that Moon was 45% responsible for the overdose, Steelberg was 40% responsible, and his practice 15%, meaning Moon’s family could receive $1.03 million from Steelberg and possibly… be $386,250 from his practice, less attorney fees.

Nothing has been paid yet. Steelberg’s attorney, Don Gribble, said he was unsure if his practice part could be paid because it was dissolved before trial and has no significant assets. Steelberg is over 80 and retired; his license is inactive.

Gribble did not decide to appeal the court’s decision.

Chris Schnieders, the Moon family’s attorney, said he believed the award amount was the highest in the county for an opioid-related death.

“The jury was able to see through the stigma of the psychiatric injuries suffered by Nick Moon and focus on the relentless escalation of the aggressive opioid and benzodiazepine regimen Dr. Steelberg wrote for Nick,” Schnieders said in a statement. Press. “We hope this result will serve as a warning that patients should be optimized on non-opioid and controlled substances before they think about trying these dangerous and addictive drugs.”

Moon worked as a painter at Excel before being shot just below the right knee in the mass shooting at the factory. He underwent multiple surgeries because of the shooting, but had weaned off opioids from the surgeries before he started seeing Steelberg in August 2016, Schnieders said.

An autopsy showed Moon had significantly more prescription medication in his system than was prescribed. Schnieders, in a telephone interview, said Steelberg continues to prescribe opioids and benzodiazepines – a combination says the National Institute of Drug Abuse increases the risk of overdose – even after signs of abuse.

Opioid prescription crushing is blamed for sparking the opioid epidemic, which has claimed an estimated 500,000 lives over 20 years, according to the CDC. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency on October 26, 2017. Moon died on December 10, 2017.

Steelberg practiced medicine for more than 50 years, first in anesthesiology and then in psychiatry. Gribble said only 3% of his patients take chronic pain medication.

“His career has been exemplary,” he said in an email.

Steelberg was unable to testify at trial, Schnieders said. Gribble said Steelberg had a stroke and suffered multiple bone fractures from falls.

Moon, who periodically used a cane, was in rehab with plans to return to work before his death.

“We’re glad we were able to get justice for the Moons considering he left a wife and son behind,” Schnieders said. “Nothing could change what happened and they would obviously prefer to have Nick.”

Wichita Eagle Related Stories

Michael Stavola covers breaking news at the Wichita Eagle. He won a national award and several state awards during his six years working for Kansas newspapers. He completed his MBA at Wichita State University in the spring of 2020. Michael enjoys exercising, hunting, and spending time with his wife and their dog, Marley.

Share.

Comments are closed.