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A Philadelphia judge found an expert’s testimony inadmissible in a medical malpractice case because the methodologies he used “appear to be nothing more than a few anecdotal references and a cursory review of several studies tangentially related to” the alleged medical basis of the lawsuit. After a Frye evidentiary hearing, Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline F. Allen threw out the report of Peter R. Breggin, a renowned psychiatrist who extrapolated about possible permanent effects of taking benzodiazepines, a class of drugs including Valium, Xanax and Ativan that are used as antianxiety agents, muscle relaxants, sedatives and hypnotics. “Under Frye [v. United States], novel scientific evidence is admissible only upon a showing that the methodology has gained general acceptance in the relevant medical community,” Allen wrote in Vinitski v. Adler. “Breggin’s testimony fell well short of the mark.” The judge also found Breggin’s expert report to be “legally insufficient,” focusing on the treatment provided by the defendant doctors “not because it ran counter to the acceptable standards of care but because it ran counter to Breggin’s personal ideas and ideologies of what the standards should be.” Breggin, from Ithaca, N.Y., is the author of such books as, “Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications”. He’s also written “Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drug”; “Electroshock and Biochemical Theories of the ‘New Psychiatry;’” and “Talking Back to Prozac: What Doctors Won’t Tell You About Today’s Most Controversial Drug.” Breggin’s report “draws legal conclusions rather than providing facts which would allow a fact-finder to come to his own conclusion,” Allen wrote. “A review of the Breggin report does not indicate where and how the doctors deviated from the standard of care or how harm was created as a result of the care received.” Allen granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case. The plaintiff has appealed the ruling to the Superior Court. Kevin H. Wright, a defense counsel, said, “This is the type of case that the Frye and Daubert standards were created to prevent.” Gerald B. Baldino Jr., one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, disagreed. Simon Vinitski had sued the doctors in 2001, alleging that the combination of medication — Xanax, Prozac, Valium, Tofranil and Depakote — they prescribed and he used intermittently over 10 years to treat anxiety and depression had caused brain atrophy and other injuries, according to court documents. Baldino said his client, a former medical physicist at the Jefferson Medical College, began to exhibit symptoms like those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but doctors ruled out that illness and others. In court, the defendants challenged Breggin’s expert opinion. According to one defendant’s motion: “Not only are Dr. Breggin’s assertions condemned by the absence of literature, but also his arguments are belied by the opinions of other experts in the field of psychiatric medicine.” Allen held a Frye hearing June 4 to determine whether the report, examining “whether prolonged exposure to high doses of benzodiazepines caused permanent brain injury,” was inadmissible. Allen noted that the articles Breggin relied on didn’t include relevant clinical or controlled studies, but instead analyzed other studies that didn’t examine permanent brain damage caused by the drugs. Breggin admitted his methodologies didn’t include treating patients with brain damage caused by benzodiazepine use or conducting a clinical study of such patients, according to Allen. Baldino, who represents Vinitski with attorney Francis J. Curran Jr. of Curran & Rassias, said this is because testing the combination of drugs his client used would have required human testing. No clinical studies of the effects of long-term benzodiazepine use had been conducted, he said. “But you can look at the effects of short-term use,” said Baldino, of Sacchetta & Baldino. Considering those short-term studies, “Dr. Breggin extrapolated that the combining of the medications increases the toxic effect of the drug, and that the result was that Mr. Vinitski suffered brain damage. He called it a ‘toxic cocktail.’” Allen found that Breggin’s opinions were extrapolations. Under the Frye standard, experts may only extrapolate when the medical inquiry is “new or the opportunities to examine a specific cause-and-effect relationship are limited.” That was not the case here, Allen said. Studying the effects of benzodiazepines isn’t new, and there are plenty of people who have been treated with the drugs to participate in studies about the effects of its long-term use, she concluded. “Breggin failed to establish that his variation of an accepted methodology is generally accepted by scientists in the relevant field as a method for arriving at his conclusion,” she wrote in her opinion published Sept. 17. Richard R. Galli, of Goldfein & Joseph, also served as defense counsel.

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