Health Editor’s Note: This article gives names of medical doctors in California who were found negligent in overprescribing opioids. Here are only nine and a possible tenth at the end of the article. These are just a drop in the “opioid overprescribing” bucket. These investigations, done, by the California state medical board, are called “The Death Certificate Project.” A review of death certificates for patients who died while overdosing on opioids came from the years 2012 and 2013. Just think the numbers of opioid prescribers who will be outed by investigations of other years of death certificates. How about in all states?
The review was for anyone who was able to prescribe opiates which means there is the potential for other than medical doctors to be found guilty. To find these overprescribing medical doctors/healthcare providers was an easy task with a comparison of a drug database that could identify healthcare providers who prescribed opioids within three years of a patient’s death.
California at the current time is the only state that goes back three years. There is also a similar project in North Carolina with vast restrictions on what can be reviewed. Sort of like a “not wanting to find” what they appear to be looking for. Who are they trying to protect, the patient who is prescribed opioids or the doctor who have committed malpractice which has led to a death? All states should begin this program, with no limitations of how far back a comparison can be made. These investigations are long, long overdue…..Carol
Nine Calif. Docs Accused of Overprescribing Opioids
-Complaints cite “gross negligence,” “incredibly high” doses — and bad penmanship
By Cheryl Clark
Earlier this month MedPageToday reported on the California state medical board’s investigations of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who prescribed opioids for individuals who later overdosed. Here we take a closer look at the nine physicians who, so far, have been formally accused of wrongdoing.
If one had to identify a physician to symbolize its “Death Certificate Project,” an aggressive effort by the Medical Board of California to nab doctors who overprescribe opioids, a likely candidate would be Harold S. Budhram, MD, of Shasta Lake. (All cities named in this article are in California.)
Triggered by deaths of two of his patients attributed to opioid overdoses, the board investigated his practice and, in April, filed a 39-page complaint listing 16 separate accusations.
Those two deaths were summarized as follows: “Patient A, a 22-year-old male, died of an apparent accidental morphine overdose, complicated by a known seizure disorder, which developed after the patient was taking opioids,” and “Patient B, a 52-year-old female, died of an apparent methadone overdose, which were prescribed by respondent.”
A third referenced death, a suicide, was said to occur after Budhram prescribed “a cocktail of Norco, methadone, Seroquel, Trazodone, and two different benzodiazepines” which “increased her risk of death or severe injury even without her ultimate suicide.”
Other phrases scattered through the complaint include “did not choose the lowest doses,” “never attempted to wean the patient off the medications,” “failed to conduct an assessment of the patient’s addiction risk,” and “continued prescribing opioid pain medication despite this red flag.” Budhram’s care of one patient was “grossly negligent,” according to the document.
Adding insult to injury, the complaint also dinged Budhram for “poor penmanship.”
The complaints against Budhram and eight other physicians are the result of the medical board’s review of death certificates of patients who lethally overdosed in 2012 and 2013. The board matched those names in the state’s prescription drug database to identify providers who prescribed opioids to those patients within 3 years of their death. Nearly 450 allopathic physicians, 12 osteopaths, and 60 nurse practitioners and physician assistants were targeted by expert reviewers for investigation and possible action. About half of the cases have been closed without further action; but in addition to the nine who have been formally accused of wrongdoing, dozens of others still face potential sanction.
The California effort is said to be the only one like it in the country with such a broad, 3-year lookback. (A project in North Carolina has tighter restrictions on what it can review. For example, it limits scrutiny to those doctors with two or more patient deaths in 1 year and who prescribed opioids within 60 days of that patient’s death while the California program goes back 3 years.)
‘Incredibly high’ doses
Many of the accusations repeat these phrases: “gross negligence,” “furnishing dangerous drugs without examination,” “unprofessional conduct,” and “inadequate record keeping.” Several physicians were said to have failed to check the state’s prescription database, CURES (the California Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System), which could have told them their patient had received opioids from other prescribers.
Bradley Howard Chesler, MD, of Escondido faces nine causes of discipline. “Patient E,” the accusation said, “was found dead in his home as a result of the combined effects of multiple substances including alcohol, methadone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, and bupropion.” And for “Patient A,” Chesler was said to have written 56 prescriptions for opioids and other medications, including products containing “an average of 5000 mg. of acetaminophen per day.” (The FDA-approved label for products containing acetaminophen says daily doses should not exceed 4,000 mg, even under a professional’s supervision.)
David James Smith, MD, of San Diego faces six causes of discipline in an accusation that references two patient opioid deaths. For one, Smith “prescribed patient B escalating doses of opioids in combination with other controlled drugs, including, but not limited to benzodiazepines, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and testosterone.
“In fact, [Smith] prescribed excessive amounts of opioids including, but not limited to, on or about Oct. 1, 2013, issuing a prescription for Roxicodone (30mg) (#140) amounting to approximately ten (10) tablets daily. Significantly, this prescription alone equaled an incredibly high four hundred fifty (450) MME” (morphine milligram equivalents).
The board’s accusation against Tahir Yaqub, MD, of Atwater details two long lists of drugs he prescribed to a patient in 2011 and 2012, including methadone, zolpidem, diazepam, alprazolam, temazepam, hydrocodone bitartrate, and clonazepam. Though Yaqub noted his patient was non-compliant, he provided refills. The medical board’s formal complaint said “documentation of the assessment and plan at each visit was cursory at best.”
Methadone and other opiates don’t mix
At this writing, the most recent accusation stemming from the project was filed Aug. 24 against Emanuel Vincent Dozier, MD, alleging four causes of discipline. The Bakersfield doctor is said to have committed an “extreme departure from the standard of care” and prescribed “Patient A” carisoprodol, alprazolam, and methadone (at her previously established dosage). Patient A died on April 25, 2012 of methadone toxicity (overdose). The accusation adds that when a patient is taking methadone, no other opiates should be prescribed.
Asked for comment, Dozier said he was unaware of the project but said the accusation references care he provided as far back as 2011. He said he’s meeting with his attorney to decide how to respond.
The accusation against David Betat, MD, of Lakeport, references his care of three patients including three who died: one listing polypharmacy as the probable cause of death, the second from cardiorespiratory arrest after possibly being overmedicated, and a third from metastatic cancer, for which tests were not ordered to diagnose. He is accused of “prescribing excessively and/or inappropriately” to five patients.
Jay Milton Beams, MD, of Susanville, faces 10 causes of discipline, many related to his “extreme departure from the standard of care” involving several patients, one of whom died in 2013 of an oxycodone overdose one day after he prescribed 240 pills of that drug, which he had prescribed to her since 2010 monthly or every other month. He also prescribed many other controlled substances during this period.
Moshe Miller Lewis, MD, of Susanville has had a determination of his case following accusations against him stemming from the Death Certificate Project. He was issued a public reprimand and ordered to enroll in courses on record keeping and prescribing. He was alleged to have repeated documentation for multiple patient visits in chart notes, not discussing a patient’s addiction risk before prescribing fentanyl, oxycodone, and Norco (acetaminophen-oxycodone), and not documenting discussions about non-opioid alternatives.
Raymond Paul Freitas, MD, of Santa Rosa, faces two causes for discipline in his alleged care of a patient at heightened risk of suicide, for whom he prescribed diazepam for anxiety and did not consider options for treating the patient’s headache besides butalbital and codeine, “medications with a known side effect of causing headaches.”
Requests for comment were placed to all physicians but Dozier was the only one to respond as of publication.
The board’s executive director, Kimberly Kirchmeyer, said the board intends to proceed with reviews of death certificates in subsequent years. Additional staff have been assigned to the project. A board spokesman said all nine accusations involve patients who died of opioids, although not all the documents made public to date reference a patient death.
She noted that for most of the cases so far, a hearing has not yet been held so the physician has not been found guilty.
Update: An accusation against a 10th physician, John Winthrop Pierce, MD, of San Francisco, was filed Aug. 31.