CALIFORNIA— Newport Beach doctor is being held responsible for the death of two of his patients with prescription drug overdoses. The state Medical Board is thus seeking to suspend or revoke his license after these two cases.
The formal accusation that was filed earlier, said that Dr. John F. Petraglia failed to get his patients’ substance-abuse histories and information about the same, before prescribing multiple painkillers or sedatives to them. He did not even investigate when urine tests showed that one of the patients was taking higher doses than prescribed and was also taking a drug that wasn’t prescribed to him at all.
His lawyer said that Petraglia had declined to comment.
Raymond J. McMahon, his lawyer, also said that he did not believe it was appropriate to address such issues through the media. They would instead address them through the appropriate legal channels, he said.
This accusation was filed against Petraglia in the same week as one against another doctor practicing in Orange County, Van Vu of Huntington Beach, who is also accused of negligently prescribing drugs that caused the death of three patients. Vu’s case received wide publicity and he has not commented on the same as yet. Petraglia’s case had not been previously reported.
Petraglia, who has been practicing since 1990, settled accusations of over prescribing drugs and failing to keep records and agreed last year to seven years’ probation. As a result, he had been barred from prescribing most painkillers until the year 2020.
This time, the new accusation was filed on March 13 by the executive director of the Medical Board, which marked the first time that the state has publicly linked Petraglia to the patient deaths.
Three counts were highlighted in the 12-page accusation, which were gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, and failure to maintain accurate records.
In case if Petraglia doesn’t reach a settlement with the state and contests the accusation, the hearing could be scheduled before an administrative law judge, who would recommend to go to a Medical Board panel. The panel could give any judgement between suspension, or revoking of his license or imposing lesser discipline. The Medical Board’s actions can also be later contested in the court.
Petraglia self-published his book on chronic pain treatment, called The Great Pain Jack, in 2012. It is mentioned that he has more than 25 years of experience in this field, in his author’s biography. The patients who met with death, are identified in the accusation by their initials. First patient, T.S., 23, died in December 2011 because of the combined effects of oxycodone, alprazolam and oxymorphone. The second patient, J.C., 52, died in July 2012 with the combined effects of morphine, methamphetamine, alprazolam, amphetamine, hydroxyalprazolam, nordiazepam, diazepam, oxazepam and temazepam. Both of the females had come to Petraglia with the complaint of chronic pain.
A urine screen was performed on T.S. two months before her death. The result had suggested that she was taking oxycodone more than the prescribed quantity. She was also taking another painkiller tramadol, which wasn’t even prescribed to her.
Two more urine screens were performed in November that showed additional problems, the accusation says, but Petraglia conveniently ignored them.
The records obtained from Orange County Superior Court show that Petraglia has been a defendant in four medical malpractice cases till date, three of which hold him responsible for overprescribing drugs. Out of those three, one was settled, one was dismissed, and one is still open.
In the case that was filed last year, he was accused of wrongful death, negligence and medical malpractice. The lawsuit states that since Petraglia prescribed excessive drugs, it led to the death of Michael Huggard and left another patient, Joseph Rivas, permanently disabled.
Petraglia made objection to the complaint and the court hearing for the same is scheduled for May 15. His lawyers said in a court filing, that Huggard and Rivas families don’t have any standing to sue and had insufficient and wrongly presented facts in their complaint.
The families’ lawyer, Rich Collins, said he’s satisfied with the fact that the state has stepped-up the investigation in case of pain-management doctors in the past year.
Collins said that this over prescription story has been seen too many times with far too many practitioners, and there was a need for some greater oversight.
It was reported in a Los Angeles Times series in 2012, that even if a small number of doctors prescribe these drugs, it contributes to a disproportionate number of deaths.
The Medical Board also has completely failed to protect patients from this reckless prescribing, the paper reported.
Petraglia’s lawyer, McMahon said in his interview last year that he thinks Petraglia and other doctors have become the victims of a political climate which is hostile to pain-management physicians, partly because of the Times’ reporting.
McMahon also said that currently, the Medical Board had become excessively aggressive which has made it harder for people to get the medicine they need in chronic pain.
Petraglia sued several drug stores in 2010, claiming defamation. His complaint stated that pharmacists had falsely told patients that he was under law enforcement investigation, in one case, where his office had been raided by the DEA.
Later, after a confidential settlement, Petraglia dismissed the lawsuit, Attorney Arthur Barens said.