Doctors nationwide followed the trial of Dr. Lisa Tseng, a former California physician who was charged with second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of her patients. Tseng was sentenced to 30 years to life after a two-week period of jury deliberation. The landmark case began in 2012 in Los Angeles when Tseng was arraigned on three counts of second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of patients for whom she had prescribed drugs. As drug abuse and drug-related deaths have grown exponentially all over the United States in recent years, Tseng is one of a few doctors nationwide to be criminally charged with murder in relation to prescription drugs. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Tseng wrote an average of 25 drug prescriptions a day, totaling to over 27,000 prescriptions over a three-year period.
Tseng and her husband, Dr. Gene Tu, worked out of a Rowland Heights clinic, a highly lucrative practice. Tseng was accused of handing out prescriptions to patients after short appointments, some of which revealed that the patient had a clear drug addiction. In 2010, an investigation found that no fewer than eight of Tseng’s patients had died of overdoses. Along with handing out illegal and fraudulent prescriptions, Tseng was also found guilty of prescribing drugs to a number of patients who had been charged with dealing drugs. Tseng’s sentence, however, was because of the deaths of Vu Nguyen, Steven Ogle, and Joey Rovero. Rovero, 21, had traveled over 300 miles from Arizona State University to Tseng’s clinic, presumably for the purpose of obtaining prescription drugs. The prosecution pointed to calls to the clinic made by patients’ relatives as evidence of Tseng’s indiscretion with drug prescriptions. One patient’s father had called the clinic in 2010 and demanded that Tseng stops prescribing medication, calling her a “drug pusher.”
Tseng’s sentence reflects an increasing trend of scrutiny on physicians in the light of rampant prescription drug abuse. Paul Volkman, a former doctor in Ohio, was convicted on four counts of illegal drug distribution and received four life sentences. Rather than traditionally being charged with negligence and involuntary manslaughter, doctors who run “pill mills” may now be prosecuted for first- or second-degree murder. Tseng’s case may set a precedent in which physicians are tasked with a much greater responsibility to their patients in regards to prescription drugs. Tseng’s lawyer, Peter Oshinoff, and attorneys like Lisa Wayne, a Colorado-based lawyer, are concerned that the ruling in Tseng’s case could set a dangerous precedent, causing doctors nationwide to fear prescribing drugs to patients who may truly need them.
Editor in Chief: Mary Schiavone
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