Physician Arrested After Prescribing Pain Killers
Republished by New Jersey Medical License Defense Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
One patient was found dead in his bed from an overdose, with a prescription for painkillers from a Queens doctor on the night stand. Another was discovered lifeless and slumped over in his car, a pill bottle naming the same doctor under his body.
The doctor, Stan Xuhui Li, 60, ran a weekend pain-management clinic from a basement office in Flushing, where he saw as many as 90 patients a day, so many he gave them numbers as if they were at a delicatessen, prosecutors said. He accepted only cash. A price list was posted on the wall: Three prescriptions for 120 pills cost $100.
Among Dr. Li’s patients, prosecutors say, were drug addicts and street dealers who knew they could get a prescription, with few questions asked, for the right price. One patient was David S. Laffer, an addict who in June 2011 massacred four people while stealing narcotics from a drugstore in Medford, N.Y., on Long Island. He is now serving life without parole. Dr. Li, through his lawyer, has previously denied selling drugs to Mr. Laffer.
On Wednesday, the opening day of Dr. Li’s trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, he was accused of giving prescriptions for opiates like OxyContin and tranquilizers like Xanax to people he knew were abusing drugs, ignoring warnings from their doctors and relatives that they might overdose.
The office of New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor is handling the case. Under a novel theory rarely used in the state, Dr. Li has been charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter and seven counts of reckless endangerment, as well as 180 counts of illegally selling prescriptions for narcotics. The top charges carry a maximum possible penalty of 15 years in prison.
The 218-count indictment concerns Dr. Li’s treatment of 20 patients from 2004 to 2011; at least four of them died. The doctor is also accused of defrauding Medicare and an insurance company, billing for exams he never performed, and of falsifying documents given to regulators.
“This is a case about a doctor who put money before lives, and not just any lives — lives with which he was entrusted,” an assistant district attorney, Charlotte Fishman, told the jury.
Dr. Li’s lawyer, Raymond Belair, said that his client had been deceived by some patients, but that Dr. Li had acted in good faith, prescribing the proper dosages for their complaints. The people who died failed to follow instructions, Mr. Belair said.
“No one who took the medications that Dr. Li prescribed as he prescribed them got into any trouble in this case,” Mr. Belair said. “Patients didn’t follow instructions and went to do things that Dr. Li had no way of knowing about.”
Mr. Belair said Dr. Li’s records would show that he regularly tried to wean patients off painkillers or reduce their dependence. He stopped seeing some patients who broke a promise to cut back on painkillers, the lawyer said.
“There is a persistent pattern here that speaks to good faith,” he said.
Dr. Li was born in China and attended medical school there. In the United States, he received board certification in anesthesiology and pain management. Before his arrest in November 2011, he was a staff anesthesiologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey.
But one day each weekend, Ms. Fishman said, Dr. Li operated the clinic in Flushing, where he owned two condominiums. It was highly lucrative. Each week Dr. Li made cash deposits of $1,000 to $14,000 at three banks in New Jersey, Ms. Fishman said. His cash deposits totaled $450,000 in one two-year period, she said.
Ms. Fishman accused Dr. Li of ignoring signs of addiction in his patients for profit’s sake. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter, for instance, in the death of John Haeg, 37, a former stockbroker whose family said his health declined considerably in 2009 as Dr. Li treated him.
Mr. Haeg had been dependent on painkillers for years, Ms. Fishman said. He went to Dr. Li’s clinic three times between Nov. 14 and Christmas Day in 2009, complaining of pain from a sprained ankle. Dr. Li gave him prescriptions for 300 oxycodone pills, 240 Percocet pills and 240 Xanax pills.
On Dec. 29, after failing to show up for a Christmas gathering with his family, Mr. Haeg died from taking too much oxycodone in his bedroom in East Moriches, N.Y., on Long Island.
Nicholas Rappold, 21, overdosed on oxycodone and Xanax in a parked car in Queens on Sept. 14, 2010, three days after his last visit to Dr. Li, when he was prescribed 120 oxycodone and 90 Xanax pills, Ms. Fishman said. A bottle of Xanax identifying Dr. Li as the prescriber was in the car’s console.
Ms. Fishman said Dr. Li often had clear warnings that his patients were abusing drugs. He continued to prescribe painkillers to Grace Papazian, who had overdosed in 2007 on heroin and opiates, even after the woman’s father showed up at Dr. Li’s office and begged him in person to stop. “He kept giving her more, and she kept abusing,” Ms. Fishman said.
Ms. Fishman said Dr. Li had received telephone calls from emergency room doctors warning him about another patient, Elizabeth Cranmore, who, the prosecutor said, overdosed five times on drugs he had prescribed.
One Queens man, Kevin Kingsley, informed Dr. Li himself that he was an recovering drug addict and was still given prescriptions for narcotics, Ms. Fishman said. He died of an overdose in December 2010, two months after his last visit to Dr. Li’s office.
“We will prove Dr. Li knew what his patients were doing,” Ms. Fishman said. “He was warned so clearly, so many times, by doctors, by families, by letters and telephone calls, and in person.”
Originally published in the New York Times.