Insight Imaging lied to patients in meningitis outbreak, lawsuit claims

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - A Roanoke clinic that administered hundreds of steroid shots tainted with meningitis lied to patients about the drug, according to a lawsuit filed by the family of a Salem man who died from taking the contaminated drug.

The family of Douglas Wingate claims in the $25 million lawsuit filed Thursday that Insight Imaging misrepresented the steroid by telling patients there were getting a safe, name-brand drug instead of a generic substitute.

The lawsuit claims Insight indicated on bills and other records that the steroid was the federally regulated Depo-Medrol when in fact it was a high-risk drug produced by a small pharmacy in Massachusetts. More than 30 lawsuits already have been filed in the region by those who came down with meningitis after receiving the injections.

But The Roanoke Times reports that the Wingate family's lawsuit contains the most detailed allegations against Insight.

The lawsuit claims Insight used the cheaper, less-regulated brand of the steroid in order to save money.

"They put profits over patient care," the lawsuit, filed in Roanoke Circuit Court.

Officials at Insight Health Corp., a California company that owns the Insight Imaging clinic named in the lawsuit, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Since September, 39 people have died and more than 600 gotten sick in 19 states from the tainted injections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 600 doses of methylprednisolone acetate, an epidural steroid injection produced by New England Compounding Center of Massachusetts, were administered by Insight Imaging of Roanoke in the months leading up to the meningitis outbreak.

The lawsuit alleges Wingate was not the only one to receive a false bill of goods. Additional lawsuits are expected, said Scott Sexton, an attorney with the Roanoke firm of Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore who filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the clinic should have known the drug made by New England Compounding was suspect. Compounding pharmacies are generally small operations that mix drugs for specific patients. Since the drugs are typically not commercially available, compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Insight Imaging-Roanoke and its employees and agents had a duty to know what they were injecting into patients, including Mr. Wingate," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit includes billing records and other reports in which Insight listed the drug administered to Wingate as Depo-Medrol. The misrepresentation also was included in records submitted to insurance companies, which the lawsuit alleges could have been hesitant to pay for steroids made at the compounding facility. New England Compounding filed for bankruptcy Dec. 21.

Lawyers for the pharmacy are asking that lawsuits be put on hold during the bankruptcy proceedings. The lawsuit also paints a better picture of Wingate's life.

He had wanted to relieve pain from a pinched nerve in his neck before he and his wife, Sharon, celebrated their 25th anniversary with a cruise.

He went to the clinic for steroid injections after a clinic recommended by his doctor could not treat him in time for his trip.

After receiving an epidural steroid injection at the clinic on Sept. 6, the 47-year-old began to suffer symptoms experienced by other patients - severe headaches, heightened sensitivity to light and noise, and other ailments that led to his hospitalization.

Wingate suffered several strokes before dying on Sept. 18. He was buried on the same day that he and his wife had planned to leave on their anniversary cruise