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Convicted Doctor to Regain Practice--Within Limits

September 22, 1987|CLAUDIA PUIG | Times Staff Writer

A San Fernando Valley neurosurgeon who spent six months in jail for the drug-overdose death of his wife will be allowed to practice medicine again but will be prohibited from prescribing narcotics, authorities said.

Stephen M. Levine, 43, pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of Myrna Levine, 32, whose body was found in the couple's Tarzana home in May, 1984. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of illegally prescribing drugs.

Myrna Levine died of a lethal dose of the painkiller Demerol, according to a Los Angeles County coroner's report.

Before a plea bargain, the neurosurgeon had faced a second-degree murder charge and 44 counts of illegally furnishing drugs.

In July, as a result of a settlement between Levine's attorney and the attorney general's office, Levine's medical license was suspended by the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance for six months, said Deputy Atty. Gen. Antonio J. Merino.

Levine will be able to resume his medical practice in January, Merino said.

On Sept. 11, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration revoked Levine's certificate to prescribe controlled substances because of his drug-related felony convictions, said Roger Guevara, a DEA spokesman.

Federal Law Prevails

An order by the DEA, since it is a federal law-enforcement agency, supersedes that of the Board of Medical Quality Assurance, Guevara said. The board had said Levine could prescribe some narcotics, but not Demerol.

Although the DEA ruled that Levine cannot prescribe or administer narcotics, the doctor can prescribe non-narcotic medicine such as antibiotics, Guevara said.

Levine's attorney, Gerson Horn, said he will appeal the DEA order on the ground that the DEA had ignored a request for a hearing.

Nevertheless, Horn said of his client: "Considering that he had been convicted of an offense, it was a very reasonable kind of disposition. It could have been a lot worse. He would have preferred not to be suspended at all, but obviously, he's realistic."

Levine received a warning six months ago that the DEA planned to revoke his certificate to dispense narcotics, Horn said. Levine then applied for a hearing within the legally allotted time, Horn said. But "apparently they misplaced the paper work and we never heard from them," the attorney said.

Meanwhile, Levine plans to re-apply for the certificate to prescribe narcotics, Horn said.

"The certificate is not absolutely necessary for his practice; he is a neurosurgeon," he said, "but he would like to have it, especially for in-hospital practice."

The DEA, however, sees the revocation of the certificate as a serious detriment to Levine's practice.

Guevara said to practice without being able to prescribe narcotics would be "like knowing how to drive without a driver's license."

The terms of the state medical board's settlement, which became effective July 22, call for the revocation of Levine's medical license for five years unless certain conditions are met, Merino said.

Those conditions require Levine to perform 16 hours per month of community service and to attend 40 hours of supplemental medical-education classes, in addition to those already required of doctors, the prosecutor said. He will begin the series of classes with one on the prescribing of drugs, the prosecutor said.

In addition, Levine will not be able to resume his practice until he passes an oral clinical examination by the board, Merino said.

The state waited to file administrative charges until the criminal case was completed to avoid "having an adverse impact on the criminal trial," Merino said. That trial ended in June, 1986.

Merino said the settlement was reached because "it appeared from all the evidence that" Levine's prescribing of a lethal dose of narcotics to his wife "was an isolated incident, not related to his other practice of medicine."

'Sufficient Assurance'

"We feel restrictions placed on him provide sufficient assurance that this type of conduct would not recur," Merino said.

Investigative agents from the medical board will pay periodic visits to Levine after he resumes his practice, to ensure his compliance with terms of the settlement, Merino said.

Levine's brother, orthopedist David L. Levine, 43, pleaded guilty in May to being an accessory in the death of Myrna Levine. He was sentenced to a year on probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

David Levine faces an administrative hearing before the state medical board next week to determine the status of his medical license, Merino said. He signed his sister-in-law's death certificate, listing her cause of death as cardiac arrest, Merino said.

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