PORTLAND – A jury has awarded $244,000 to a Portland woman who was repeatedly given high doses of methadone at a clinic in Westbrook even though she overdosed several times and other doctors warned the clinic to lower her prescription.

Sharon Pratt sued Dr. Steven Keefe, the former medical director at CAP Quality Care, in 2008 in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Keefe oversaw Pratt’s treatment, along with the clinic’s founder, Dr. Marc Shinderman, in 2001 and 2002. Shinderman, a well-known and controversial drug treatment expert, was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to six months in federal prison for prescription fraud.

When Pratt was a patient at CAP Quality Care, Keefe was allowing Shinderman to prescribe methadone and other drugs using Keefe’s name and drug registration number.

The civil trial in Pratt’s case began Jan. 31. The jury returned the verdict Tuesday afternoon after about three hours of deliberation.

The jury found that both Keefe and Pratt were at fault for Pratt’s overdoses, two car crashes and multiple hospital visits from October 2001 to June 2002.

Jurors decided that Keefe breached standards of medical care, and that his negligence outweighed Pratt’s, leading to the $244,000 judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Justice Thomas Warren presided.

Anthony Sineni, Pratt’s lawyer, and Christopher Taintor, who represented Keefe, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In the spring of 2001, Pratt was treated at Mercy Hospital for addiction to painkillers, which she had taken during years of cancer treatment. She was referred to Discovery House, a methadone clinic in South Portland, for continuing treatment.

Methadone is a synthetic drug that’s prescribed to wean addicts off heroin, OxyContin, Dilaudid and other opiates.

Soon after Pratt started treatment at Discovery House, she switched to CAP Quality Care because she heard that Shinderman “would prescribe her whatever she wanted,” according to court records.

Shinderman was Pratt’s primary doctor, but he used Keefe’s credentials because he was not licensed to practice medicine in Maine. Shinderman later testified at his trial that he believed the arrangement was legal. Keefe admitted that he provided Shinderman with entire pads of pre-signed prescription sheets.

Shinderman came under scrutiny for his published opinion that some patients require much higher doses of methadone to keep them from relapsing on street drugs.

Portland police questioned whether the larger doses at CAP Quality Care, and the clinic’s practice of allowing some patients to take methadone home, were contributing to black market sales and a rise in the city’s reported overdose deaths.

Pratt’s dose of methadone was increased from 215 milligrams at Discovery House to 690 milligrams at CAP Quality Care by December 2001, when she was first hospitalized for an overdose.

Doctors at Maine Medical Center said the dose, in their opinion, was dangerously high. In the complaint against Keefe, Sineni wrote that CAP Quality Care increased Pratt’s dose to 1,050 milligrams sometime after her first overdose.

“When questioned by Ms. Pratt regarding the continuing need to increase her methadone dose, Dr. Shinderman responded by saying, ‘Sharon, your problem is that you’re mental and what you need is more dope … addicts need dope,’” Sineni wrote.

In January 2002, Pratt fell in a parking lot and was hospitalized for a head injury. Two weeks later, she crashed her car and was treated for another methadone overdose.

Pratt got into a second car crash in April 2002 within an hour of taking her dose at CAP Quality Care in combination with other prescribed drugs. Then, on May 30, Pratt spent three days at Maine Med for yet another methadone overdose.

After that, Pratt entered the Mercy Recovery Center for detox from methadone.

“Throughout Ms. Pratt’s treatment at CAP, Drs. Shinderman and Keefe prescribed and administered methadone and other drugs to Ms. Pratt in grossly negligent, medically unreasonable and dangerous combinations, quantities and dosages,” Sineni wrote in the lawsuit.

The Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensure reprimanded Keefe in 2004 for professional misconduct. He retained his license and continued to practice at CAP Quality Care until September 2006. He has an active license and specializes in family practice, according to state records. 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]