California Says Doctor Kills 4 Opioid Patients – CBS Sacramento
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The California attorney general said on Wednesday he was accusing a northern California doctor of killing four patients by overprescribing opioids and narcotics, crimes he linked to nationwide opioid epidemic.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed several criminal charges against Dr Thomas McNeese Keller, 72, of Santa Rosa, relating to nine of his patients. The charges include the second degree murder of four deaths and elder abuse for a fifth patient who also died. Murder charges could result in a life sentence.
This is the first time that a California attorney general has brought murder charges against a doctor for overprescribing opioids, Becerra’s office said. Last year, his office persuaded a state appeals court to uphold the second-degree murder conviction of a former osteopathic doctor, Hsiu Ying Tseng, who is serving a life sentence for the overdose death of three patients, but these charges were initially filed by a local. prosecutor.
Keller’s defense attorney John Cox of Oakland said his client was a longtime pain management doctor and several of his patients committed suicide and another died of an overdose accidental drug use.
He “always, to the best of his medical ability, tried to take good care of his patients,” Cox said. “There are no grounds for the murder charge in this case.”
Becerra filed her charges after the federal government tried to prosecute Keller last year on more limited drug overprescription charges.
Keller was arrested Monday and remains in Sonoma County pending a bail hearing next week.
The charges allege that between 2011 and 2017, Keller dramatically increased his patients’ opioid prescriptions while prescribing other drugs that could cause a dangerous interaction.
They say he has prescribed Vicodin, Oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, and Morphine at levels far beyond accepted medical practice.
He often prescribed 180 to 300 pills in each prescription despite urgent warnings from pharmacies and insurance companies and even after some patients died from overdoses, Becerra said.
“Doctors take an oath to protect patients and not to engage in behavior that may endanger their health and safety,” Becerra said in a statement. “When we see evidence of crime and harm to a patient, we need to act. The opioid epidemic is destroying our communities and taking away our loved ones.
Cox called the murder charges “an attempt to draw attention to the opioid crisis,” saying he is happy to exonerate his client.
The charges stemmed from an investigation by its Office of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse, which investigates abuse, neglect and fraud against older and dependent adults in care facilities.