World / Reporter's Journal

LA 'Pill Mill' doctor's conviction sounds an alarm for all parents

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-11-04 06:05

The conviction of a Los Angeles-area Chinese-American doctor on second-degree murder charges on Friday serves as a wake-up call to not only medical and legal professionals, but also to parents of adolescent children.

The Asian-American community in the Bay Area expressed mixed feelings about the case, arguing there was always a fine line that no one can afford to cross.

LA 'Pill Mill' doctor's conviction sounds an alarm for all parents

Dr Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 45, an osteopath specializing in internal medicine, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2009 deaths of Vu Nguyen, 28, of Lake Forest; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert; and Joey Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student who was reportedly driving 300 miles from Tempe, Arizona, to obtain prescriptions from Tseng at her clinic.

Tseng "had recklessly prescribed drugs to patients, was accused of ignoring 'red flags' about her prescribing habits, including the overdose of a patient in her clinic and nine phone calls in less than three years from authorities informing her that patients had died with drugs in their system," according to court records.

Tseng also ignored pleas from family members of the patients who demanded she stop prescribing drugs to them.

Prosecutors and jurors took a cautious approach handling Tseng's case. The eight-week trial summoned 77 witnesses and presented more than 250 pieces of evidence, as the prosecution argued that Tseng had plenty of warnings that her prescription practices were going astray.

According to Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann, Tseng agreed to give a dozen patients "crazy, outrageous amounts" of powerful narcotics without asking follow-up questions, even after some patients told her they were becoming addicted.

Considered a landmark verdict against practicing physicians in the US, the conviction of Tseng has sent a strong message to the medical world that "you can't hide behind a white lab coat and commit crimes," said Niedermann. "A lab coat and stethoscope are no shield. She (Tseng) wrote them (patients) a prescription for the very thing they are addicted to. She shoved them over that cliff," he said.

The convictions — the first ever against a US doctor for recklessly prescribing drugs — should help increase public awareness of what health officials are calling a national epidemic of prescription drug overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 17,000 deaths a year are caused by prescription drug abuse, along with a rise in heroin addiction.

Ling Zhang, a Fremont, California, mother with two sons in high school, said she is very concerned about prescription drug overuse in school. "My boys sometime will share with me that some of their classmates are addicted to using drugs to maintain high energy levels and stay focused," Zhang said, adding that one student was even hospitalized for a drug overdose near the end of a semester.

Young people seeking medication are not in control of their problematic behavior, Zhang said, doctors are the ones who are supposed to do their duty and safeguard youth. "Physicians are in a position to know the harm their prescriptions can cause," she said. "They should be extremely careful."

The medical world, which has been closely following Tseng's trial, however, worries that a conviction of this kind might keep overly concerned doctors from prescribing powerful painkillers to the patients who really need them.

April Rovero, the mother of one of the victims, said that if her son were alive today, she'd tell him that his bad choices led to an outcome that could have a broader impact.

"This is something that could make a difference as we turn this doctor overprescribing situation around," she told the AP. "I wish he was here, certainly, but his life has made a difference."

Tseng, who has been in custody since March 2012, faces a maximum of life in prison when she is sentenced on Dec 14.

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