Lawyer: Feds eye doc in drug overdose cases
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A Great Neck doctor who prescribed thousands of pain pills to Medford pharmacy killer David Laffer and his wife is under federal investigation in the deaths of at least two patients from drug overdoses, his lawyer said.
Federal agents informed Eric Jacobson that they were looking into the deaths during a Dec. 1 raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service on his office, when boxes of patients' records were seized, said his lawyer, John Martin.
"I believe he's done nothing wrong, and we are cooperating with the government investigation," Martin said. Jacobson has not been charged with any crimes and has maintained he is running a professional pain management practice.
Martin said that it would be difficult to prove that one physician could be responsible for the death of a patient who was getting prescription drugs from several doctors.
Few doctor convictions
Since 2004, about 220 doctors have been convicted in state or federal court for illegally distributing controlled substances such as OxyContin, DEA records show. There have been only seven convictions in cases involving patients who died. The convictions were in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia, and resulted in sentences of as long as life in prison.
"It's a rare occurrence," said Dawn Dearden, chief spokesman for the DEA.
In November, a Queens doctor, Stan Xuhui Li, was arrested on state charges of illegally prescribing narcotics to a man who died months later of an overdose. Li, 57, an anesthesiologist who was running a pain clinic in Flushing, is being investigated in nine other overdose deaths in the past three years, prosecutors said.
They said Li prescribed oxycodone and other drugs to Michael Cornetta, 40, of Queens, between May 2009 and August 2010, continuing to sell him prescriptions even after Cornetta overdosed and sought substance abuse treatment. Cornetta died from a multiple drug overdose in November 2010.
Li pleaded not guilty to 15 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance and five counts of reckless endangerment.
Abuse of prescription narcotic painkillers is the country's fastest-rising drug problem. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one person dies every 19 minutes from abusing such medication.
Jacobson's 2 patients
Jacobson treated two patients whose deaths are under investigation. They are Linda Jean Campbell, 38, of 17 Hampton Dr., Shirley, and Victoria Bethea, 48, of 43 Grant Ave., Brentwood, according to sources familiar with the case. Campbell died in May and Bethea died in June, according to Suffolk County police records.
Before the raid on Jacobson's office and the start of the federal investigation, the Suffolk County Medical Examiner concluded that Campbell died of "acute and chronic substance abuse" and Bethea died of "acute cocaine intoxication," Suffolk police records show. If the investigation uncovers new evidence it may lead to a re-evaluation of the causes of death, sources said.
Campbell's brother, Robert Campbell, of Milford, Pa., said she suffered from severe asthma, arthritis and fibromyalgia -- all characterized by fatigue and chronic pain -- and had been unemployed for years.
"Basically, she lived on SSI payments and selling pills on the street," he said.
Brian Bethea, 50, of Central Islip, said his estranged wife, Victoria, was taking too many pills, including OxyContin, and refused to heed warnings from him and friends to stop.
"She lived by herself and we could say what we did, but she wouldn't listen," he said.
Jacobson's attorney, Martin, said health care privacy regulations prohibit him from commenting on his client's patients, the medications he prescribed for them, or their deaths. And although Martin said he was aware of patient overdose deaths, that doesn't mean the doctor was involved in their deaths.
Martin said his client is "fastidious" about checking the state database that tracks prescriptions for certain controlled substances for each new patient and monitors it regularly after they have become patients.
Martin said Jacobson also has a history of carefully screening his patients, often requiring that they submit urine samples and MRI results before he would take them as patients to ensure that their complaints are legitimate.
Ties to Laffer, wife
Martin said Jacobson stopped treating Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, when he suspected her of doctor-shopping after he noticed on the database that she was getting prescriptions from other doctors.
Laffer also got prescriptions from Jacobson for controlled substances, but Jacobson has described him as "a model patient . . . respectful, polite, personable and soft-spoken," who didn't show up in the database as doctor-shopping.
State records show that Jacobson gave Laffer and Brady 23 prescriptions for 3,720 pain pills from August 2010 to June 2011.
Laffer is serving four consecutive life terms in prison for the killings at the Medford pharmacy on Father's Day 2011. Brady is serving 25 years in prison for robbery.
Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, and Erin Mulvey, a spokesman for the DEA, declined to comment on the investigation.