LOS ANGELES (AP) - The district attorney who filed murder charges against a California doctor in prescription drug deaths of three patients says the case is highly unusual but may serve as a warning shot to unethical physicians who become pill pushers.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley says his office will continue to prosecute greedy and unethical doctors in an effort to stem the epidemic of prescription and illegal drug abuse which claims more lives each year than traffic accidents.
Drug enforcement officials agree with Cooley, alleging that Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng knew that her prescriptions could have a deadly result because others in her care had died before the three men named in the charges.
The problem is so great that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has shifted agents who once chased Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers to investigating doctors who push pills illegally.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
The doctor passed out prescriptions for drugs like Xanax and OxyContin, Vicodin and Adderall at a rate of 25 per day for three years, with only cursory patient examinations and a minimum of questions, authorities said.
Now Los Angeles County prosecutors are determined to show that Dr. Hsui-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, whom they’ve dubbed “Dr. Feelgood,” has done more than overprescribe drugs.
They are looking to prove she’s guilty of murder, responsible for the deaths of three otherwise healthy men in their 20s.
Tseng, 42, was scheduled to be arraigned on Friday. She was being held on $3 million bail and could face a state prison term of 45 years to life if convicted.
After a long probe involving U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents posing as patients, Tseng was charged Thursday in the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, on March 2, 2009; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, on April 9, 2009; and Joseph Rovero III, 21, an Arizona State University student from San Ramon, on Dec. 18, 2009.
Rovero, who went by Joey, had been a high school football player in San Ramon and was halfway through his senior year at ASU, where he was studying business and communications.
He saw Tseng for the first and only time on Dec. 9, 2009, nine days before his death in Tempe, Ariz., and received prescriptions for Xanax and OxyContin, the brand names for Alprazolam and Oxycodone.
His autopsy report said Rovero died of acute intoxication of those two drugs. Alcohol was also in his system.
Rovero came into Tseng’s office complaining of anxiety and of pain in his hand, back and wrist, and saying a previous doctor had prescribed him OxyContin, Xanax and Soma, according to records from the Osteopathic Medical Board of California.
Tseng prescribed the drugs after performing only a partial physical examination that didn’t even note which hands or wrists were in pain, the records said. They then cite dozens of failures of Tseng to take the required steps when issuing such prescriptions, including: