Kentucky should consider murder charges for pill-mill doctors

Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng is sentenced to 30 years to life for murders in an L.A. case tied to pateints’ overdoses at Los Angeles Superior court on Feb. 5, 2016 in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Patrick Brennan

Take a moment to picture a murderer. Does she wear a white coat and give you pills?

In an unprecedented case earlier this month, a California doctor, Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, was convicted of second-degree murder for recklessly overprescribing pills, which led to death. With all the prescription drug problems we have in Kentucky, it’s time for local prosecutors to consider this charge.

Dr. Tseng was charged with running a pill-mill in California, writing scripts without adequate forethought.

“This is an isolated case of a physician who disregarded multiple warning signs from varying sources that most attentive providers would have seen as credible,” Division Chief for Pain and Regional Anesthesia at UK Healthcare, Dr. Jay Grider, wrote in an email to the Kentucky Kernel.

Tseng had been notified many times about overdoses from her prescriptions, and three more overdose deaths led to this unprecedented, harsh conviction. Second-degree murder is a “non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility,” according to the Legal Dictionary.

Most of the time, doctors who make errors, no matter the level of harm, are charged with malpractice.

On the other hand, street drug dealers in Kentucky can be charged with murder if the drug user overdoses on their product.

So the question is: should Kentucky doctors be given special protection because of their titles?

On the one hand, we don’t want to put more pressure on doctors and medical students who already live stressful lives. But the act of the drug dealer and that of the reckless doctor are essentially the same — doling out drugs for money.

Moreover, this charge is not handed out easily; respectable students and doctors should not be worried of the charge.

“If they only hear that a (doctor) was sentenced for prescribing, then perhaps there would be some anxiety, but anyone familiar with the case would say that it (was) less about medical judgment and more about common sense,” Grider wrote. “In other words, if you are practicing medicine with common sense, this would not be your outcome.”

Kentucky faces a massive prescription drug overdose problem — more Kentuckians die each year from overdoses than car accidents.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear wants to address this problem by locating pill mills and combating drug trafficking.

“The Attorney General’s office has been on the front line of shutting down the pill mills in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “Our big challenge now is what I would call ‘pill pipelines.’ Other states haven’t done as much as we have.”

Still, it is time to change our perspective of this problem and stop letting doctors hide behind their white coat. A murderer is a murderer, no matter the letters before or after their name.

Patrick Brennan is the assistant opinions editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

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