The Queens doctor charged with manslaughter in the deaths of two men to whom he is accused of overprescribing pain pills testified Friday that he helped his patients go through withdrawal and was not motivated by greed.
"I would cut down the dosages immediately when a patient came in with a history of high dosages of painkillers," said Dr. Stan Xuhui Li. One of his patients, David Laffer, who murdered four people in a Medford pharmacy in 2011, was prescribed more than 2,500 pills.
Denying he set out to create addicts, Li said he told his patients that they were becoming addicted and were suffering "withdrawal" pains -- not the discomfort that first brought them to his Flushing clinic.
"I told my patients that those first few days they will feel withdrawal but that the body would heal itself," Li testified.
This was the first day the doctor, 60, a resident of Hamilton, New Jersey, took the stand in Manhattan state Supreme Court. Judge Michael Sonberg adjourned the proceedings after about an hour because a juror fell ill.
Li has been charged with manslaughter for prescribing oxycodone and other drugs -- while ignoring danger signs -- to two men. One was Joseph Haeg of East Moriches. Li testified Friday that Haeg had been taking as many as 12 pain pills a day to treat chronic back pain, which the patient had for 17 years.
Haeg, 37, diedof an overdose in December 2009.He also is charged with reckless endangerment of seven patients and criminal sale of a controlled substance to 20 patients. Seven patients died of overdoses, prosecutors said.
The doctor said he opened the pain clinic in Flushing to serve a Chinese-American community that lacked that service.
And Li said his wife, who emigrated from China, "needed a job." Although she also is a doctor, her English was not sufficiently "competent" for her to take the boards in the United States, he said.
So his wife became the office manager and worked at the clinic during the week. Li only saw his Flushing patients on Saturdays, driving in with his wife and young daughter, who would study Chinese at a nearby school during office hours.
Li, an anesthesiologist, testified he earned $400,000 a year for his services at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton.
Assistant District Attorney Charlotte Fishman has said he collected $450,000 in fees on top of insurance reimbursements since the clinic opened in 2005, adding that Li funneled the money into an account in his name.
During its first year, Li said, he treated about five to 10 patients a day. Three years later, it was about 30 people a day. In 2008 his practice changed because patients arrived with different symptoms. "It got more complicated," he said.
The recession had begun a year earlier, and Li said his new patients "were suffering from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder."
He added: "They were on so much medication that they lost their jobs, family support, and unfortunately could not take care of themselves . . . they also had poor hygiene."
Defense attorney Raymond Belair asked Li how he responded to these new patients. "My goal was keep them functioning so that they could keep their jobs -- and try to help them," Li said.
With Joan Gralla