A Hempfield Township doctor pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge for his role in the 2015 drug overdose death of a Unity Township woman.
Dr. Edgar Derek Peske, 81, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter while two additional charges — a drug offense and insurance fraud — were removed as part of the plea deal. Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Tim Krieger said Peske’s sentence also includes five years of probation, along with two years of house arrest.
Peske was arrested in April 2017 after agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office filed multiple felony charges against him for drug delivery resulting in the June 2015 death of 30-year-old Nicole Henderson of Unity Township. He was also charged with unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance and medical assistance fraud for allegedly prescribing painkillers to nine patients during a 22-month stretch from 2013 to 2015.
Peske pleaded no contest last year to counts of drug delivery resulting in death, and two other charges. A few months later, he withdrew his plea and a trial was slated to get underway next week.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed in 2017 by special agent Rob Cameron with the Attorney General’s office through the office of Magisterial District Judge Michael Mahady, Henderson was prescribed 100 methadone tablets following her final appointment with Peske.
But on June 8, 2015, when Henderson took the prescription to the pharmacy, it refused to fill it because Peske wrote on the prescription that the medication was for drug withdrawal. These types of prescriptions must be done through methadone clinic, authorities said.
Peske later reissued the prescription, the police report said, this time indicating that the drug was needed for “chronic pain.” Henderson overdosed and died the next day, June 9, 2015.
In a report provided to the Attorney General’s office and included in the affidavit, pain management specialist Dr. Stephen Thomas wrote that “Dr. Peske was directly responsible for the death of Nicole Henderson.”
“While the death of Nicole Henderson is well-documented and undeniably the result of Dr. Peske’s maliciously reckless prescribing, it is undoubted that the lives of many others were placed at similar risk,” Thomas added.
According to the police report, some of Peske’s patients were members of the same household, and an investigation revealed that patients were using multiple pharmacies to fill prescriptions on the same day using different payment types. In one case, per the criminal complaint, he spelled the patient’s name differently on each prescription.
Additionally, the investigation revealed that prescriptions “were also being written at intervals that were not appropriate, as patients should not have been out of their medication from the prior prescription.” Investigators added that Peske wrote prescriptions without monitoring patients and addressing pain levels.
Thomas’ opinion said that Peske’s prescribing practice “was not done in a manner in which any reasonable segment of the medical profession would so prescribe.
“The observed controlled substance prescribing of (Peske) was medically inappropriate” and a “danger to his patients and the community ... his prescribing was reckless in the extreme.”
Peske’s medical license went inactive May 2, 2016, and expired in December of that year. Peske voluntarily surrendered his license to prescribe controlled substances in July 2015.
Henderson was the daughter of Terri and Donald Howard of Fairfield Township. They both stated in court Monday that Peske was responsible for their daughter’s overdose death. Peske’s attorneys had previously suggested that Henderson was to blame for her demise.
Defense attorney Brian Aston claimed Peske, who said he pled guilty as a way to end the case, did not mean to put Henderson in danger.
Some information used in this story is from Trib Total Media.