Pain Doctor is Accused of Excessively Prescribing to Addicts
California physician, Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, has been arrested on charges of giving drugs to patients he didn’t examine, prescribing drugs to five addicts who died of overdoses, and giving them to an impaired driver who struck and killed an off-duty firefighter on his bicycle. Federal prosecutors said he prescribed drugs to addicts or those selling them on the street. He prescribed some drugs after receiving text messages requesting specific quantities and doses.
“This case clearly and tragically illustrates the dangers of drug dealers armed with prescription pads,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna.
Pham’s record of prescribing large amounts of pills led a CVS pharmacy to stop accepting prescriptions from him more than five years ago. The physician couldn’t provide a valid reason behind the number of pills patients were picking up. State officials were aware of improper prescribing practices even before CVS flagged it, according to records at the Osteopathic Medical Board.
Pham was reprimanded by the board in 2007 after being accused of excessive prescribing to an addict without a proper examination. Pham acknowledged he failed to recognize a patient was an addict. The medical board noted in his favor that Pham had never been disciplined before and the case involved a single patient, thus closing the case. Pham was ordered to complete courses on prescribing medications and record keeping and had to participate in a clinical training program.
Between 2014 and 2017, Pham wrote prescriptions for five addicts who died from overdoses. Those investigations are ongoing. 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.
In November, several prescription bottles with Pham’s name were found in the vehicle of the driver who fatally struck the bicyclist. That driver, Stephen Scarpa, 25, has been with murder of Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza.
An agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was able to get from Pham what is referred to as the “holy trinity,” three types of potent drugs. Pham has been under investigation by the agency since 2015.
“Today’s arrest of Dr. Pham was accomplished through the tireless work of DEA agents and federal prosecutors,” said DEA Los Angeles Associate Special Agent in Charge William D. Bodner after Pham was apprehended. “This arrest should serve as a warning to any physician who utilizes their position to traffic opioids. Dr. Pham’s arrest coincides with today’s press conference announcing DEA’s commitment to opioid and overdose prevention with its community and law enforcement partners.”
A statewide database showed Pham wrote more than 52,000 prescriptions in the three years leading up to October 2017 — an average of more than 300 a week — which is “extremely high,” Bellomy noted. One text exchange indicated Pham was having a sexual relationship with a patient, according to court documents. He was prescribing drugs to that woman and also to her 9-year-old daughter.
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, he could face up to 40 years in prison.