By: Cedar Point Recovery 15 Feb 2016
California Doctor Sentenced to Thirty Years Following Conviction for Overdose Deaths of Three Patients

A Los Angeles judge recently issued a 30-year prison sentence to 46-year-old Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng in a move that is sure to make the medical community take notice. In October, Tseng was convicted of second-degree murder after three of her patients died from prescription drug overdoses. Tsung was implicated in the deaths of nine of her patients. In the end, however, she was only tried and convicted for her role in the deaths of Vu Nguyen (29), Steven Ogle (25), and Joseph Rovero (21).

Tseng is the first doctor to be convicted of murder due to irresponsible prescription practices. Her arrest came after an undercover investigation that revealed what police described as the shocking ease with which Tseng wrote prescriptions. She wrote more than 27,000 prescriptions during a three-year period, an average of about 25 per day.

What Does the Sentencing Mean for the Medical Community?

Tseng’s conviction comes just a few years after Dr. Conrad Murray’s involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of Michael Jackson, which the judge in that case described as “medicine madness”. These two cases suggest that the criminal justice system is growing increasingly intolerant of doctors who recklessly write prescriptions to patients who overdose.

With more than 25,000 US prescription overdose deaths in 2014 (more than 18,000 of them from opioid painkillers), more and more people are taking notice of this deadly epidemic.

Tseng’s attorney said that her conviction, “does not bode well for doctors.” However, physicians have been facing stricter accountability standards for some time.

All but two states (DC and New Hampshire) have adopted prescription monitoring programs that require mandatory physician enrollment. These programs are designed to expose “pill mills” (pain management clinics where users can easily obtain prescriptions from irresponsible or negligent doctors) and to reduce patient “doctor shopping” (seeking multiple prescriptions from different doctors).

There has been a noticeable increase in pressure to hold doctors more responsible for patient overdoses. However, there continues to be room for improvement in prescription practices. A 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that people at the highest risk for opioid overdoses are just as likely to get pills from their physicians as they from a friend or off the street.

Can More Be Done?

Tseng’s conviction and 30-year sentence may not trigger a referendum on physician prescription accountability. However, it is safe to say that it has shed further light on the role of doctors in the national prescription drug epidemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) published a 2014 report focusing on prescribers’ roles in preventing drug diversion. Among the many insights in the report were relatively simple suggestions like:

  • Securing prescription pads to avoid forgeries.
  • Keeping DEA and license numbers confidential.
  • Adopting strict refill policies.
  • Educating office staff.
  • Collaborating with benefit managers and managed care plans on issues of medical necessity.

With Americans of all ages dying in record numbers from prescription drug overdoses, the public is asking what else can be done to stem the tide?

Addiction Back to Blog