Calif. Doctor Is Charged With Murder for Allegedly Overprescribing Pain Medication
A California doctor has been accused of overprescribing painkillers to many of his patients, resulting in the deaths of at least five of them, PEOPLE confirms.
According to a statement from the California Attorney General’s Office, Santa Rosa neurosurgeon and pain management specialist Dr. Thomas Keller, 72, faces four counts of felony murder, a single felony count of elder abuse and four felony counts of issuing prescriptions for opioids without a legitimate medical purpose.
The Aug. 8 complaint alleges that “between October 2011 and July 2017, Keller prescribed a wide range of highly addictive opioids, and consistently and drastically increased his patients’ opioid prescriptions.”
The criminal complaint further alleges that Keller increased patients’ opioid dosage “while prescribing medications such as Soma, a muscle relaxant, and benzodiazepines — both of which are known to cause a dangerous drug interaction when taken with opioids.”
According to the statement, “Keller often prescribed at maximum dosages and in quantities upwards of 180-300 pills per prescription, resulting in total daily opiate prescription dosages that far exceeded the recommended 50 mg Morphine Equivalent Dosage standard set forth by the Centers for Disease Control.”
The statement further alleges Keller continued this treatment “despite Red Flag warnings from pharmacies and insurance companies, his own observations of his patients, and knowledge of his patients’ deaths from drug overdose.”
It was unclear Friday if Keller, who was arrested Monday, had entered pleas to the charges against him.
PEOPLE was also unable to reach his lawyer, John Cox, for comment, but CBS 13 received a statement from him that calls the charges “an injustice.” Cox added: “The Attorney General’s Office is absolutely overreaching in an effort to try and show they are doing something about the opioid crisis.”
Keller remains behind bars without bond.
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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a statement about the allegations.
“Doctors take an oath to protect patients and not engage in behavior that can risk their health and safety,” the statement reads. “When we see evidence of a crime and patient harm, we must act. The opioid epidemic is destroying our communities and taking our loved ones. The California Department of Justice will continue to prosecute fairly and diligently all those who are alleged to have abused our healthcare system and over-prescribe drugs at the expense of their patients.”
The charges are the culmination of an investigation that launched just over a year ago into elder abuse allegations.
According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, citing a complaint filed by the Medical Board of California, Keller had his medical license temporarily suspended in 1990 for allegations of sexually abusing 10 female patients. His license, the paper reports, was reinstated on a probationary period in 1994 and was fully restored in 1997.
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