USC turned a blind eye to medical school dean Puliafito’s drinking, newspaper says

University of Southern California (USC) administrators began receiving complaints about their medical school dean’s alcohol use more than five years ago but took little action to address those reports and protect patients, according to the Los Angeles Times.

USC did not suspend the medical privileges of former Keck School of Medicine dean Carmen Puliafito, M.D., until after the newspaper published a report in July that detailed the renowned eye surgeon’s alleged use of methamphetamines and other drugs, the LA Times reported.

Puliafito abruptly resigned as the medical school’s dean in March 2016, three weeks after an incident in which he was in a hotel room with a young woman who suffered a drug overdose.

The latest report by the newspaper says while university administrators may not have been aware of Puliafito’s alleged drug use, they had gotten complaints about his drinking as far back as five years ago. Despite the complaints, including one that he appeared drunk and fell asleep in a chair at a Keck medical conference, Puliafito remained at the university and continued to treat patients.

The newspaper’s original investigation triggered a medical board inquiry and the suspension of Puliafito’s license in September pending a final decision on his fitness to practice medicine. That resulted in formal allegations last month that Puliafito, for 21 months, smoked methamphetamines within hours of seeing patients and abused the drug on a near-daily basis on campus and elsewhere, the newspaper said.

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The complaints of excessive drinking were a sufficient basis to suspend Puliafito from practice while an investigation took place, Nancy Jecker, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Bioethics and Humanities, told the newspaper.

Puliafito's alleged drug use brought to the forefront the controversial question of whether physicians should be subject to random drug testing. It left some to question whether such testing would have helped Puliafito and could detect drug use among other medical professionals struggling with addictions.