Bitter Pill

Families say Hollywood doc is out of control

When Freburger knocked on Sharon Gaffalione's door, Freburger said, Gaffalione's father begged the investigator to "get the doctor that keeps giving her drugs." He said his daughter was completely out of control, having recently been found by police crawling naked in the street. Sharon Gaffalione said that Southeastern Wellness Institute introduced her to OxyContin after she walked in complaining of neck pain. "Being addicted to it [Oxy] is worse than being addicted to heroin. It really is. Your body aches. You barf," she told Freburger.

Within months, Gaffalione was an Oxy pro. "See, I used the doctor just as much as he used me. I give him the money. I get what I needed," she explained. She learned how to suck the green time-release coating off tablets so that she could crush them and then either snort or shoot up the narcotic. She exhausted the veins in her arms and began injecting herself in the butt. When Henson spied her track marks, she said, "he wasn't thrilled with it." She confessed that she was addicted and that she needed help. Henson reacted, she said, by giving her methadone and more OxyContin. Gaffalione eventually went through detox. "Part of me really does like Dr. Henson," she said. "He was sweet, he was kind, but I also — I almost died."

Will any of those patients testify? Kevin Kulik, Henson's attorney, doesn't think so. Years have passed since they gave statements to Freburger, and Kulik says not a single one has responded to his subpoenas to appear for a deposition. "They're gone," he said. "They're off to either new pill doctors or deceased or not interested in being a witness in a case. People like that avoid the court system."

Pain doc Arthur Henson
Courtesy of broward sheriff's office
Pain doc Arthur Henson

Linda McCalister would like to testify. She says she gave Arthur Henson an earful the last time she saw him, just before a hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in 2006. He was sitting alone on a bench, wearing a sharp suit, his white hair pulled into a ponytail, she recalls. She remembers approaching him like a long-lost friend, clutching a photograph of her son. "You killed him," she said, pointing at the image of Scott. "He killed him," she says Henson responded before walking away. McCalister says she lost it. "Murderer! Murderer!" she shouted after him.

Kulik paints the upcoming trial as a vendetta against pain doctors. People die, he says. Their loved ones feel guilty. They need a scapegoat. Meanwhile, Arthur Henson is 75 years old and unable to work as a doctor. And what about the folks with honest-to-God chronic pain? Kulik asks, the kind of agony that shoots through your back 24/7, that no operation can mend? "If you're a doctor and you've trained to help people, and you've sworn an oath to do that, you can't just kick 'em out on the street because you feel like it or because you think you might get in trouble."

Still, they're called "controlled substances" because there are established procedures and rules for prescribing them. While building a case for the Florida Department of Health, Assistant General Counsel Blake Hunter says he noticed that Henson had an appallingly small stack of notes on his patients. (Unless Henson appeals to the board to get his license back, Hunter says his case against him is closed.) And there are plenty of other pain doctors who aren't dotting their i's and crossing their t's, he says, in a growing but dicey line of work.

"You have to be extra-vigilant if you suspect that a patient is abusing drugs," Hunter warns.

Taking Henson's livelihood isn't enough for Linda McCalister. She plans to be at the courthouse again on February 18, with a picture of her son, because she wants to see the doctor thrown in jail.

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