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California doctor on trial for murder

5th March 2012

Authorities in Los Angeles are prosecuting an osteopath for murder after she handed out around 25 prescriptions a day for controlled drugs without asking detailed questions of her patients.

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After a hearing on Friday, district attorney Steve Cooley said that the case should serve as a warning to unethical physicians who become pill pushers, warning that the state will continue to crack down on greedy and unethical doctors.

Hsui-Ying "Lisa" Tseng was charged with murder after the deaths of three of her patients, who were all healthy young men when they came to her office between March and December 2009.

She appeared in court last week, when her arraignment was postponed until 9 March. Her bail is currently set at US$3 million.

Official investigators have been cracking down on drug deaths linked to overdoses of prescription medications, which now kill more people than road accidents in the US.

Tseng's case follows a lengthy under-cover investigation of Tseng's prescribing patterns, sparked by concerns from local pharmacies that she seemed to be prescribing large quantities of Xanax, OxyContin, Vicodin and Adderall.

Tseng subjected her patients to cursory examinations and rarely asked questions or checked up on their stories.

Los Angeles County prosecutors have nicknamed Tseng "Dr. Feelgood" and are seeking to prove she is guilty of the murders of Vu Nguyen, 29; Steven Ogle, 25; and Joseph Rovero III, 21.

Rovero's autopsy showed he had died of acute intoxication with high levels of Alprazolam and Oxycodone in his bloodstream, as well as alcohol.

Prosecutors say Tseng failed to get a patient history to explain the origin of his pain, to check prior medical records, contact his previous doctors or investigate whether he had a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

They reported similar lapses in her prescribing process with Nguyen and Ogle.

Undercover agents said she prescribed drugs for them on a fraudulent basis, and without asking questions. During a three-year period at their office in the Los Angeles suburb of Rowland Heights, Tseng wrote a total of 27,000 prescriptions, averaging around 25 a day.

Her license to write prescriptions was taken away in 2010, while she voluntarily surrendered her medical licence, leaving her husband to continue running the couple's clinic.

Tseng told the L.A. Times in 2010 that she was "strict" with her patients, but that she could not prevent them from taking an overdose of medications that she prescribed.

Her lawyer Ellyn Garafalo has defended doctors in over-prescribing cases in the past. It is very rare, she pointed out, for doctors to be charged with murder in such cases, because they have little control over what their patients do with the drugs they are given.

Garafalo said that in the case of Michael Jackson's death, his doctor was only charged with manslaughter after the star died from a drug overdose.

 

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