NY pain doctor arrested after man's fatal overdose
NEW YORK (AP) — A pain management doctor whose patients included a man who killed four people in a pharmacy robbery made a practice of peddling prescriptions to addicts and drug dealers, and at least 10 of his patients went on to die of overdoses, authorities said Monday.
From a Queens weekend clinic where patients lined up in front of his door and as many as 120 were seen a day, Dr. Stan Li wrote more than 17,000 prescriptions — mainly for oxycodone and other highly addictive painkillers — in the last 2 ½ years, city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan's office said as Li was charged with selling prescriptions to one patient even after the man repeatedly overdosed. An overdose ultimately killed him.
Li's lawyer, Aaron M. Wallenstein, said the doctor denies the allegations, had acted responsibly and "wants to fight this to the end." Li, 57, was being held on $500,000 bail after pleading not guilty to prescription sale and reckless endangerment charges. While they currently all relate to one patient, prosecutors said more charges were expected.
While some doctors unwittingly prescribe drugs to addicts, Li is accused of intentionally writing prescriptions for unneeded narcotics in return for cash, Brennan noted in a statement.
His conduct, she said, "is just another form of drug dealing."
Li, who was born in China, has been a U.S. citizen since 1999, his lawyer said. Li now lives in Hamilton, N.J., and works full time as an anesthesiologist at a hospital there, running his Medical Pain Management clinic on Saturdays and occasional Sundays since January 2009, prosecutors said.
Investigators found some patients selling drugs right outside the clinic, and inside they found a sign setting out his fees, prosecutors said: $100 a visit for a "low-complexity" patient, or $150 for a "high-complexity" case, including someone seeing more than one doctor, someone seeking more than three prescriptions in one visit or someone with a history of drug abuse. Li took cash and sometimes billed government health programs for the visits, prosecutors said.
Investigators also discovered at least 10 fatal overdoses among his patients, prosecutors said.
Michael Cornetta got prescriptions monthly from Li for oxycodone, the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam — sometimes sold under the trade name Xanax — and fentanyl, a potent pain medication that comes in the form of a patch, prosecutors said. Li went on prescribing the drugs even after Cornetta overdosed and was hospitalized in January 2010 and again that May, prosecutors said. An emergency room doctor called Li about the January overdose, they said.
Cornetta was 40 when he died of a deadly dose of fentanyl, anti-anxiety drugs and cocaine in November 2010, three months after getting his last prescription from Li, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Li also provided 24 prescriptions filled by David Laffer, who went on to kill four people during a Long Island pharmacy robbery in June, Newsday has reported. Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, admitted driving the getaway car. He's serving a life sentence; she's serving 25 years.
Laffer indicated at his Nov. 10 sentencing that he had "shopped" for doctors willing to prescribe painkillers with few or no questions asked.
Wallenstein said Li had refused to keep treating Laffer, Brady and Cornetta, though he wasn't sure when. The attorney declined to detail the reasons, but he said the physician had made use of a database designed to combat painkiller abuse by tracking patients who seek prescriptions from multiple doctors.
"He followed the rules. He did what he had to do," Wallenstein said.
Brennan, however, said the lawyer's characterization of Li's use of the database "is wholly inaccurate."
Meanwhile, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota told Newsday on Sunday that he was seeking a special grand jury to investigate "doctor shopping" and possible criminal conduct by physicians in prescribing painkillers.
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