Many people rely on their dentists the same way they rely on their primacy care doctors or any other medical professional: to keep them safe. However, one grieving New York family believes one dentist failed to “do no harm” by prescribing opioids to a patient with known substance abuse problems. The surviving relatives of Eva Concannon say that dentist Dr. Emilia Cearnetchi wrote painkiller prescriptions for Concannon, who then died of an overdose in 1996.
Now, 21 years later, the family tells New York Daily News that they are shocked Dr. Cearnetchi is still treating patients.
Dr. Cearnetchi, served 60 days in jail after Concannon overdosed, but she is now practicing again in a dental office in Queens. In 1999, Dr. Cearnetchi pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of second-degree reckless endangerment after admitting to supplying Concannon with prescriptions for opioid painkillers. However, the dentist maintained she was not responsible for the overdose itself.
The victim, Eva Concannon, was just 35 at the time of her overdose on July 5, 1996. Her sister, Kathleen Maloney, 55, has yet to come to terms with the tragedy.
“My sister had no chance,” said Maloney. “If you are addicted to drugs and you have a licensed professional supplying you, what chance do you have?”
The average time people wait between dental appointments is three years, but the state Dentistry Board reinstated Dr. Emilia Cearnetchi’s license in two years after a probationary period in 2005, according to reporting by New York Daily News. Maloney and Stacey, Concannon’s daughter, are shocked that Cearnetchi is still allowed to work in the field.
“If there was a death, why would they ever give her a license again?” Maloney asked. “Who are these state board members who allowed this? Dealing with them is like a teacher getting arrested for molesting a student and the other teachers help her not get fired.”
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. today, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses reported in 2015. The National Library of Medicine reports that between 1990 and 2000, about 2,285 residents of New York City died of an opioid overdose. Yet at the time of Concannon’s death, opioid addiction was much rarer.
Maloney said she wasn’t aware of her sister’s addiction until just one month before she overdosed, and that at her worst her sister was taking “15 pills a day not to feel sick, 30 a day to feel good.”
“I asked her, ‘Where are you getting it from?’” she recalled. “‘Remember the dentist you met, my friend? She gives me the prescriptions.’ I was absolutely blown away. I said to her, ‘You must be exaggerating. You couldn’t possibly be taking that amount because you would be dead.’”
Cearnetchi, however, says that she wrote just two prescriptions for Concannon to treat pain from a toothache. When a physician is convicted of a crime, they must often complete a lengthy period of professional monitoring or probation. In Cearnetchi’s case, her license was not fully restored until 11 years after Concannon’s death.
“If I had known Eva was a drug addict, I would have never gave her any prescriptions,” she told New York Daily News. “I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize she was an addict before I gave her the painkillers. I gave her the painkiller but she had a painful tooth, that’s all.”
As for Maloney’s allegations of Cearnetchi’s awareness of Concannon’s addiction, she simply says, “She is absolutely not in touch with reality.”