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Editorial: Manslaughter charges for pain doctor sends needed message

Dr. Stan Li, left, looks on as he

Dr. Stan Li, left, looks on as he is arraigned on manslaughter charges in connection with two overdose deaths. (Dec. 06, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

What do you call doctors who brazenly write prescriptions for painkillers in exchange for cash?

Drug dealers.

In the case of Dr. Stan Li, who allegedly supplied the Medford Pharmacy gunman David Laffer and hundreds of others, you can also call him a criminal defendant. Li was charged Thursday with manslaughter in the deaths of two men whose bodies were found near bottles of drugs he prescribed days before their demise.

Li is believed to be the first doctor to face New York State manslaughter charges in connection with drug overdose deaths, according to the city's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, which announced the 219-count indictment.

Proving manslaughter will be difficult, but prosecutors are right to try. Tough criminal charges, together with the I-STOP computerized database slated to be operational next August, which will give physicians and pharmacists information on a patient's prescription history, should discourage doctor dealers.

Details from Li's indictment reveal why prosecutors think manslaughter charges are sustainable. He operated a weekend pain management clinic in Flushing for two years. "Patients" allegedly lined up on the sidewalk for hours to reach a receptionist's desk, where they got a numbered ticket for their turn with Li, who saw about 100 of these cash-and-carry patients a day.

Two patients who died of oxycodone overdoses are the basis for the manslaughter charges. Joseph Haeg's body was found in his East Moriches bedroom Dec. 29, 2009. Haeg, 37, got prescriptions from Li for more than 500 pills of controlled substances in the month before he died, including one for oxycodone three days before his body was discovered.

Nicholas Rappold was found dead Sept. 14, 2010, in a car in Queens. He had made his last visit to Li three days earlier and left with prescriptions for oxycodone and Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication. During the five weeks before his death, the 21-year-old saw Li three times and received prescriptions for more than 500 pills of controlled substances.

An indictment is not a conviction. But, in this case, it sends a powerful message to doctors about the perils of dealing drugs.