WOONSOCKET – FBI agents spent hours Saturday searching the secluded North End home and nearby clinical office of Dr. Stuart Gitlow, a psychiatrist with a national profile in addiction medicine who twice ran for a seat in the General Assembly.
Kristen Setera, spokeswoman for the FBI's Boston field office, confirmed that the agency executed court-authorized warrants to search Gitlow's home, located at 153 Gaskill St., and an office at 32 Mechanic Ave., a sprawling brick factory building off Pond Street with multiple tenants.
Because the warrants were executed as part of an ongoing investigation, Setera said she could not comment on what the FBI was looking for or whether Gitlow is a target of the probe.
In a brief phone conversation, Gitlow acknowledged that FBI agents had searched his home over the weekend, but he says he doesn't know what they were looking for.
“They were looking at patient records – I don't know why,” said Gitlow. “I have no idea what the underlying reasoning would be.”
Saying he had to take another call, Gitlow abruptly cut off the conversation, but he invited this reporter to call him back in a few minutes. When the requested callback was placed, no one answered.
Gitlow, 56, is the immediate past president of the American Society for Addiction Medicine, headquarted in Chevy Chase, Md. Founded in 1954, the organization now has more than 4,000 member physicians who specialize in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. He is also the founder and executive director of Annenberg Physician Training Program, which is dedicated to improving addiction medicine and recruiting physicians to the field.
Since March 2017, Gitlow has served as the chief medical officer for The Recovery Research Network, which is touted as an adult-only, outpatient treatment program that uses “proprietary software” to improve outcomes. The clinic is headquartered in Atlantis, Fla., just outside Lake Worth. Gitlow is also on the faculty of the University of Florida, according to his online resume and the university's staff directory.
Tom Geving, the manager of 32 Mechanic Ave. – also known as Woonsocket Industrial Complex LLC – says Gitlow has a clinical office in the factory building, which houses a mix of professional and light manufacturing tenants. The owners of the 118-year-old, 185,000-square-foot site also run a portion of it as a self-storage facility.
Geving, who witnessed a portion of the FBI search, said there is no sign on the door of Gitlow's office in the complex, but he is known to see patients regularly only on one Saturday per month, though some trickle in sporadically at other times. Often, Geving said, Gitlow's patients travel quite a distance to see the doctor.
“I've seen people just get out of a taxi after being picked up at the airport,” said Geving. “When they leave they get right back in a taxi and they go back to the airport.”
Geving said that when Gitlow opens the Saturday clinic “there are quite a number of people who come in and out.”
Geving said the FBI search appaerently dovetailed with one of Gitlow's office-hour Saturdays, because a number of patients arrived while the law enforcement activity was in progress. He said other workers saw FBI agents searching the motor vehicle of a patient.
The nature of the clinical interactions that take place in Gitlow's Mechanic Street office are unknown, but he is a well-known advocate for treating opioid addiction with Suboxone, the brand name of a generic drug known as buprenorphine. Like methadone, buprenorphine staves off the symptoms of withdrawal from opioid-based painkillers such as heroin and fentanyl, two of the most problematic substances currently plaguing the state – and much of the country – with an epidemic of overdose fatalities.
The state Department of Health said 314 people died in 2017 from overdoses of fentanyl, heroin, or some combination of the two. The number of deaths represents a decline of about 8 percent since the previous year.
In a 2016 interview with the Tribune-Democrat of Pennsylvania, Gitlow explained how heroin addiction can cause “brain abnormalities” that make it “difficult to treat at best.”
“With opiates,” he said. “it can be treated to some degree with buprenorphine. It is an opiate, but it works differently than the rest of them. Buprenorphine has what is called a ceiling effect. So it does not lead to the negative consequences, but it does lead to relief.”
If Gitlow's name sounds familiar, it may be because he twice ran for state representative from Woonsocket's District 49 – a seat currently held by State Rep. Michael Morin.
In September 2010, he ran in the Democratic primary against Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who was the incumbent at the time. Baldelli-Hunt defeated Gitlow 719-173 and went on to run unopposed in the general election that November, according to records at the Board of Canvassers office.
Gitlow took another stab at the District 49 seat in 2012, taking part in a three-way Democratic primary that also included Baldelli-Hunt and Michael Morin. Baldelli-Hunt won the primary with 726 votes, while Morin finished second with 333. Gitlow finished a distant third, with 78 votes. Baldelli-Hunt later went on to defeat the former Michael Moniz – he recently changed his name to Michael Disney – in the general election.
Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III said that members of the Woonsocket Police Department provided assistance to the FBI while they searched the Gitlow's residence and the Mechanic Avenue factory building.
But he said he doesn't know what the investigation is about and wouldn't be able to say if he did.
“We did provide some assistance to them while they were here, but this is not our investigation,” said Oates. “We are not a part of this action.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo