A doctor has been convicted in California of murder in the prescription painkiller overdose deaths of three patients.
The outcome established a groundbreaking legal precedent in that it “marked the first time in which a U.S. doctor was found guilty of murder for over-prescribing drugs,” Reuters explained.
Dr. Hsiu-Ying Tseng, aka Dr. Lisa Tseng, was found guilty on Friday of three counts of second-degree murder and 19 counts of unlawful prescription of a controlled substance by a Los Angeles County jury after an eight-week trial and two weeks of deliberations in which they had to distinguish between murder in the second degree or involuntary manslaughter.
Tseng, 45, could receive up to a life term in prison at her sentencing hearing scheduled for December 14.
The M.D. was also found guilty on one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and found not guilty of illegally writing a hydrocodone prescription to an undercover cop.
The overdose victims in the case were three men in their 20s who died in 2009.
Dr. Tseng was arrested in March 2012 and has been in custody since then in lieu of $3 million bail. The DEA evidently began looking into her lucrative practice in 2008 (three years after it opened) when the agency noticed a disproportionate number of her patients filling painkiller prescriptions at local pharmacies. She surrendered her medical license around the time of her arrest.
Her lawyer plans to appeal the jury verdict and claimed the overworked physician, lacking in street smarts, placed a naive trust in her patients.
The doctor was allegedly running a pill mill from her Rowland Heights, California, clinic in which she prescribed “crazy, outrageous amounts” of painkillers to many people who walked through the door, according to a prosecutor, however.
She allegedly ignored repeated warnings and red flags arising from instances of addicted patients ODing and passing away, and supposedly one patient even overdosed in her medical office, prompting a call to 911, which dispatched EMTs to revive him.
“Prosecutors, who described Tseng as a ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ argued she prescribed the three young men powerful drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and Xanax without valid medical reasons,” the San Gabriel Valley Tribune explained.
Commenting on the verdict, a prosecutor declared that “The message this case sends is you can’t hide behind a white lab coat and commit crimes. A lab coat and stethoscope are no shield.”
“Writing a prescription to someone knowing that they’re going to abuse it and potentially die was the theory of second-degree murder that we had,” he added.
According to another prosecutor, “This is the most severe penalty we have ever gotten on a doctor who illegally overprescribed drugs to patients.”
Before the criminal case went to trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court and obviously well before the doctor was convicted, Lisa Tseng reportedly settled civil lawsuits with the families of five other patients who overdosed on drugs that she had prescribed.
Separate and apart from this particular case, do you think that doctors in general are handing out prescriptions like Halloween candy or are they issued responsibly as part of a legitimate and effective health protocol?
[image via Shutterstock]