In California and Arkansas, two doctors charged in patient deaths over opioid prescriptions, misdiagnosis

A California neurosurgeon and a former VA pathologist are both facing criminal charges in the deaths of patients.

In the first time a California attorney general has filed murder charges against a doctor for overprescribing opioids, a Santa Rosa doctor was arrested in connection with the deaths of five patients. While justice officials have been cracking down on doctors who illegally prescribe opioids, it is still unusual for law enforcement officials to charge doctors with murder in resulting patient deaths.

The patients’ deaths allegedly resulted from Thomas Keller, M.D., overprescribing dangerously high levels of addictive opioids and narcotics, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Keller was charged with second-degree murder and felony elder abuse charges in the deaths of five patients.

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Keller, 72, pleaded not guilty to the charges in Sonoma County Superior Court Tuesday, according to The Press Democrat. He is being held on $12 million bail.

Keller faces multiple criminal charges related to nine patients, including charges of murder in four deaths and felony elder abuse for a fifth patient who died. If found guilty, the murder charges could bring a life sentence.

Becerra tied the case to the country’s opioid epidemic. “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,” he said.

In Arkansas, Fayetteville pathologist Robert Morris Levy, M.D. was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three patients, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the western district of Arkansas.

Levy, who was fired from an Arkansas veterans hospital after officials said he had been impaired while on duty, was charged this week in the death of the three veterans who he allegedly misdiagnosed. Prosecutors say he later altered patients’ medical records to conceal his mistakes.

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He was also charged with 28 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to law enforcement officials in alleged attempts to conceal his substance abuse and incorrect diagnoses. Levy served as chief of pathology and laboratory medical services at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks until he was fired last year.