A Santa Barbara doctor was convicted for illegally prescribing patients dangerous amounts of narcotics. Dr. Julio Gabriel Diaz, nicknamed the Candy Man, was found guilty of 79 felonies for knowingly distributing highly addictive painkillers and sedatives without a legitimate medical purpose, according to a report by the Orange County Register.
Federal prosecutors stated that at least 20 of Diaz’s patients suffered fatal overdoses. However, the doctor was not charged in connection to those deaths.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bilal Essayli commented to the Santa Ana jury on Wednesday.
“The very first responsibility of a doctor is to cause no harm. The defendant didn’t simply fail to live up to this duty, he did the opposite.”
During the trial, 67-year-old Diaz testified that he evaluated all his patients before giving them a prescription.
“They had to show me the symptoms of pain… they had to have a history. Pain is subjective, and the correlation with x-rays is very poor. It is listening to the patients and observing them, how they sit, how they walk.”
Prosecutors countered that patients chose Diaz since he was “the doctor who gave them the drugs they wanted.”
Associated Press reports that during trial, Diaz testified patients lied and tricked him to get the narcotics. Diaz’s lawyer, Kate Corrigan, said she presented a vigorous defense and planned to appeal.
In 2012, Diaz was arrested and pleaded guilty to 11 charges but later withdrew his plea, saying he was ill advised about the sentence he was facing and unaware that federal prosecutors would argue that his prescriptions could be tied to 20 people who died.
Prosecutors wrote in court filings that most of Diaz’s patients died from taking multiple drugs between 2006 and 2011, and none of the prescriptions he wrote served a medical purpose.
Court papers noted that the father of a patient who died of an apparent overdose had repeatedly called Diaz’s office telling him his son was an addict and to stop giving him pills.
Prosecutors stated that between January 2009 and December 2010, doctors counted more than 400 emergency room visits from Diaz’s patients.
Diaz had previously signed a plea deal admitting to some of the felonies, but was allowed to back out of the agreement after arguing that he had received ineffective counsel from his former attorney.
Ann Luotto Wolf, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Diaz ran a clinic in Santa Barbara and wrote illegitimate prescriptions for extremely addictive drugs and could face a decades-long prison sentence.
Diaz ran a family medicine practice for decades, focusing on low-income, largely Spanish-speaking elderly patients. The doctor, known by his colleagues as the Candy Man, started taking pain management patients after he decided that there weren’t enough doctors in the area to provide such services.
Many of the doctor’s patients drove long distances to meet with him and were given what authorities claim to be abnormally large quantities of narcotics. Others in the Santa Barbara medical community came to distrust Diaz as they viewed his practice from a distance.
A few pharmacies began to refuse filling Diaz’s prescriptions, and emergency room workers began tallying the increasing number of his patients who suffered overdoses.
Family members begged the doctor to stop giving their loved ones access to the addictive medications such as methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and hydrocodone.
Ann Luotto Wolf commented, “I’m just very pleased with obviously the verdict and the outcome. I certainly hope that it is sending a message.”
On Dec. 14, Julio Gabriel Diaz is scheduled to return to the Santa Ana courtroom of U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney for sentencing.
[Featured image via Greens Not Easy]