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Is California Doing Enough to Prevent Prescription Deaths?

As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we are concerned by a new report suggesting that California is not doing enough to prevent prescription deaths caused by reckless doctors. The Los Angeles Times highlights that some California doctors are prescribing powerful painkillers to patients who had no medical need for them, often with fatal consequences.

The article uses Dr. Carlos Estiandan as an example of the problem. By the time his prescribing license was finally revoked after a four-year investigation, eight of his patients had died of overdoses or related causes. In total, at least 30 patients in Southern California have died of drug overdoses or related causes while their doctors were under investigation, according to the newspaper.

While a number of factors likely contribute to the spike in drug-related deaths, the LA Times investigation highlights that lax oversight by the state’s medical board may play a significant role.

Below are several other startling findings of the report:

  • Board investigations infrequently result in tough sanctions. In 80% of the 190 cases of improper prescribing filed by the board since 2005, the offending physician was given a reprimand or placed on probation. In most of those cases, the doctor was allowed to continue writing prescriptions with few or no restrictions.
  • The board rarely seeks to suspend the prescribing privileges of doctors under investigation. The agency can petition a judge for an interim suspension order, but has only done so 12 times in the last five years.
  • Eight doctors disciplined for excessive prescribing later had patients die of overdoses or related causes. Prescriptions those doctors wrote caused or contributed to 19 deaths.