LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Southern California doctor was arrested Tuesday on charges of doling out drugs to patients he didn’t examine and is alleged to have prescribed drugs to five people who died of overdoses as well as an impaired driver who struck and killed a bicyclist, federal prosecutors said.
Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, faces charges of illegally distributing opioids and other narcotics to what authorities called “patients,” but who were addicts using the drugs or people selling them on the street. He prescribed some drugs after receiving text messages requesting specific quantities and doses, prosecutors said.
“This case clearly and tragically illustrates the dangers of drug dealers armed with prescription pads,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna.
A phone call and email seeking comment from Pham’s lawyer, John Barton, were not immediately returned. Phone calls to Pham’s urgent care clinic in Irvine and a number listed for his home were not answered.
Pham’s record of prescribing large amounts of pills led a CVS pharmacy to stop accepting prescriptions from him more than five years ago when he couldn’t justify the number of pills patients were picking up, prosecutors said.
State officials were aware of improper prescribing practices years before that, according to records at the Osteopathic Medical Board.
Pham was reprimanded by the board in 2007 for excessive prescribing, prescribing without good faith examination, repeated negligent acts and prescribing to an addict, among other charges. Details of the record were not immediately available.
Between 2014 and 2017, Pham wrote prescriptions for five people who died from overdoses, prosecutors said. He’s not charged in those deaths, but those investigations are ongoing, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney.
One of the overdose deaths was a 21-year-old man, identified in the affidavit only by initials S.L.S. who fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and two of the types of drugs Pham prescribed. The man’s mother referred to Pham as “Dr. Feelgood.”
In November, a driver who fatally struck an off-duty firefighter training on his bike for a triathlon told investigators he was on drugs prescribed by Pham, prosecutors said. Several prescription bottles with Pham’s name were found in the driver’s car.
Orange County prosecutors have charged Stephen Scarpa, 25, with murder in the death of Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza.
The death came a few months after an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent was able to quickly score from Pham what is referred to as a “triple threat” or “holy trinity,” a combination of three types of narcotics, the affidavit said. Pham directed the agent to an Irvine pharmacy that filled many of his prescriptions.
The affidavit filed with the charges described many of Pham’s text messages, indicating in one case that he was having a sexual relationship with a patient. He was prescribing drugs to that woman and also to her 9-year-old daughter, according to the document by DEA Special Agent Lindsey Bellomy.
In another text exchange, Pham told someone he was concerned after learning that the gunman who killed 11 and wounded a responding officer who died from a fellow officer’s bullet during a shootout at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks last month had prescriptions Pham wrote for someone else.
The document does not provide any information on whether Ian Long, the shooter who took his own life after the Nov. 7 mass shooting, possessed any prescriptions written by Pham.
“I never saw Mr. Long before so I don’t know the implication of this information,” Pham wrote in the text message exchange, according to the affidavit.
The person Pham was texting responded by trying to reassure Pham he was in the clear if the prescriptions were not written to Long.
“If I give my meds to some crazy person its (sic) on me, not you, you have no control over what happened after a patient leaves your office,” the person replied.
The criminal complaint said Pham charged $100 to $150 a visit at his clinic and deposited $6.7 million into bank accounts between 2013 and September.
If convicted of the charges, Pham could face up to 40 years in prison, prosecutors said.