Palm Beach News

Infamous Eye Doctor Salomon Melgen Left Patients Blind, Lawsuit Says

According to federal court documents, two people are alleging that infamous eye doctor Salomon Melgen left them blind in one eye.

Melgen, a Palm Beach County eye surgeon, was arrested in April for bilking Medicare out of more than $100 million. His alleged scheme was simple: convince elderly patients to undergo macular degeneration treatments they might not need, treat said patients with expensive drugs, and make Medicare pay for it. In 2012, Melgen received $21 million from Medicare, the highest sum in the nation, according to the New York Times.

The doctor was released on an $18 million bond in April and now awaits trial. Melgen is a close friend of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who was indicted on federal corruption charges last April for doing Melgen favors in return for massive campaign donations.

Lost in the headlines were several Palm Beach County lawsuits against Melgen and his practices. According to a federal lawsuit, at least two people are claiming to have been blinded by Melgen.

American Casualty Co. of Redding, Pennsylvania, an insurance company, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against 12 people who have accused Melgen of malpractice. The legal filing essentially asks that compounding claims be treated as a single claim. The complaint claims that seven of the people involved have filed “substantially similar” cases against Melgen in Palm Beach County Court.

As the compliant explains, during his treatments, Melgen famously injected the drug Lucentis, which treats macular degeneration but costs close to $2,000 a dose, directly into patients’ eyes. Lucentis’ cost has long been criticized. A cheaper, virtually identical alternative, called Avastin, costs just $50 a pop.

The problem, however, is that Avastin is a cancer drug and is not expressly FDA-approved to be injected into eyes, though Avastin’s use is reportedly common among ophthamologists. Avastin is sold in larger bulk packs than Lucentis and needs to be broken down to become injectable. In 2011, the FDA warned that this breakdown process can contaminate the drugs. In 2013, the FDA reported that a pharmacy had recalled 79 “lots” of Avastin syringes out of contamination fears.

Samuel and Ruth Belcher, two Florida residents, sued Melgen, Vitreo, Genentech (a biotechnology corporation that manufactures Avastin), and Eastern Pharmacy Inc. (which prepared the drug treatment) in 2014. Their suit claims that after Melgen injected Samuel Belcher with Avastin, Belcher developed acute endophthalmitis, a severe eye infection that can cause the entire eye to turn red, sticky, and puffy. The suit said Belcher developed the infection in both eyes. Once the infection healed, Belcher was blind in one eye and had severely limited sight in the other. Belcher and his lawyer, Phillip Gold, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Another suit, filed in June 2015, claims Melgen used a single syringe to inject Lucentis into both of a woman's eyes, leading to infection. The woman, 85-year-old Louise Constantine, claims she is now blind in her left eye. Constantine's lawyer, Richard Doyle, could not be reached for comment, and calls to a house listed as belonging to Constantine were not returned.

Melgen's lawyers did not return a call for comment Friday.  
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli