Doctors Charles Sutherland and Michael Impey who abused prescription drugs recently had their licenses to practice reinstated by the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts. The job of this board is to protect the public by assessing physicians’ “competence to practice and their moral character.” It is made up of eight doctors and one “voting public member,” appointed by the governor to four-year terms. Four of the positions are currently vacant, however, leaving five members to make decisions about whether to suspend, revoke or restore licenses based on only three votes in some cases.
Now, Randall Williams, Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, along with Governor Eric Greitens, is taking a closer look at the problem of physician drug abuse as part of an overall effort to battle against the state’s opioid epidemic. “We’ve been looking very closely at the (board of) Healing Arts record on that issue,” said Williams. “You’ve tapped into an area that is very much of concern to us and we’ve been doing a lot of due diligence on that.”
Sutherland had had an arrest for driving while intoxicated on his record in 2003 as well as a felony conviction for forging prescriptions in 2010. Yet, he was able to run a clinic in Paris, Missouri despite his sordid record. Sutherland was initially placed on probation for the 2010 offense, but he violated and ended up being sentenced to 120 days in prison after being convicted of criminal damage to property in 2012.
“When he was practicing medicine, Dr. Sutherland contributed to the misuse of opioids in this community,” said Nicole Volkert, former prosecuting attorney in Monroe County at the time of Sutherland’s forgery case, who is now an assistant city attorney for the city of Columbia. “In my opinion, I don’t think he should have gotten his medical license back.”
St. Louis-based physician, Impey, had a felony conviction for illegal distribution of controlled substances. His attorney said Impey was addicted to pain pills himself during a 2009 malpractice lawsuit. Impey punctured the colon of plaintiff and former patient John W. Campbell, which led to a follow-up surgery to remove the damaged body tissue.
Physicians abusing substances are more likely to get their licenses reinstated or maintain their ability to practice if they voluntarily come forward and admit they need help. However, whether they can continue to practice is granted on an individual basis and, “These guys have a whole host of issues going on,” said John Fromson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the founding director of Physician Health Services.
While both Impey and Sutherland will be able to continue practicing in the medical field on their reinstated licenses, both will have restrictions, including the ability to fill prescriptions for controlled substances. Impey must also keep where he lives and practices on record and is subject to unannounced inspections.
Sutherland will have to participate in a drug abuse treatment program for physicians, receive psychotherapy sessions, attend support groups and practice only “in a structured environment that is supportive to recovery.” Sutherland’s history of drug abuse is a long one, dating back to 1991, when the North Dakota medical board restricted his license because he “habitually self-administered controlled substances for other than medically accepted therapeutic purposes.”