College of Law > Academics > Centers, Institutes & Initiatives > Mary and Michael Jaharis Health Law Institute > e-Pulse Blog > Doctors on Trial
By Vaughn Bentley /
October 30, 2015 /
Dr. Lisa Tseng is facing life in prison after three of her
patients died from drug overdoses. Tseng
has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder stemming from the
deaths of twelve of her patients for prescribing medication to them. Tseng is
also the first
California physician to be charged in this way. Some of the patients are
alleged to have travelled
hundreds of miles to get prescriptions from Tseng, who has been referred to
as a “pill mill.”
may be a reaction to the 100
Americans who die from a drug overdose everyday. According to prosecutors,
Tseng was not ignorant of what was happening and there is evidence that she was
acting recklessly. Tseng was repeatedly
notified by law enforcement that patients were overdosing and dying under
her care. Both family members and prosecutors would like to make an example of
warning to doctors not to be careless. According
to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Tseng wrote over 27,000 prescriptions in
just 3 years, averaging 25 prescriptions per day. Prosecutors
allege Tseng would give a patient a prescription after just 3 minutes,
without a physical exam or checking for signs of addiction.
attorney contends Tseng is a Taiwanese immigrant with good intentions. The
defense goes on to say that Tseng was trained
in infectious disease, not in pain management. She was pulled into her
husband’s practice and was simply in over her head and that Tseng
did not act with callousness or indifference. Tseng’s
attorney blamed the deaths on the patient’s addiction and mental health
issues, not on the physician’s prescribing habits. According to the attorney,
Tseng was one link in the chain, but was not responsible for the deaths.
Tseng’s case is the first of it’s kind to go to trial in California, it
is not the first to be investigated. In 2002, another doctor and two
pharmacists were arrested for starting a “public health epidemic with attendant abuse, addiction, overdose and death.” Also
in 2002, a
Florida physician was convicted of manslaughter for the deaths of four
patients related to Oxycontin overdose. Earlier this summer, Dr.
Hatem Ataya, a physician in Michigan was arrested for similar charges to
Tseng. Ataya is accused of badgering patients into getting refills for
prescription narcotics, even if the patient was not experiencing pain.
Ultimately, three of Ataya’s patients died from a narcotic overdose, leading to
his arrest. In 2011, Dr.
Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving Michael
Jackson a fatal dose of propofol.
experts are worried about the effects a conviction could have on prescribing.
The experts are concerned physicians will be afraid of criminal charges,
leading to patients with legitimate pain to suffer without the medication.
Currently, physicians can face malpractice claims or even action against their medical license, but
it is rare to hold a physician criminally liable. It is unclear if this
will cause more criminal cases, given the severity of the evidence facing
Tseng. Beyond the evidence already mentioned, Tseng’s receptionist will testify
Tseng responded “They’re
druggies, they can wait” when told about a full waiting room. One patient
in the hallway to Tseng’s clinic.
question that Dr. Lisa Tseng faces severe charges and consequences. If
faces life in prison. What affect a conviction could have on the
prescribing habits of physicians remains to be seen, but given the high
overdose rate perhaps a chilling effect is warranted. What is clear is that
physicians have been sent a message, to be careful when prescribing addictive
Vaughn Bentley is the current Editor-In-Chief of the
E-Pulse. He is pursuing a joint J.D. and LL.M. in Health Law at DePaul
University College of Law in Chicago. Mr. Bentley obtained a B.A. in Psychology
from the State University of New York, College at Oswego in 2013. He is an
active student board member of the Health Law Institute and has a passion for
healthcare law. He would like to focus on administrative healthcare law or healthcare
litigation after graduating in May of 2016.