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State Probes Doctor's Hotel Detox of Wealthy

Medicine: Possible violations include use of unlicensed facility and prescription of opiates to treat addicts. Physician declines to comment.

October 23, 1998|CHUCK PHILIPS and MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The enforcement arm of the California Medical Board is investigating whether a doctor violated any laws by detoxing heroin addicts at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, sources said.

The probe follows an article published last month in The Times focusing on so-called hotel detoxes at the Peninsula and other Westside luxury hotels--a lucrative practice for a small group of physicians who cater to the entertainment industry's rich and celebrated. In the article, Dr. David A. Kipper said he had detoxed about 20 heroin addicts at the Peninsula and conceded that his detox program--which included the use of a synthetic opiate, buprenorphine--might not be "completely legal."

A series of Westside physicians over the past 18 years have used some of Los Angeles' most luxurious hotels to wean wealthy addicts off drugs while protecting their anonymity. Experts contend that hotel detoxes are unsafe and often fail because they allow addicts to set the terms of their own treatment, often to their own disadvantage.

State authorities say that conducting drug detoxification in an unlicensed facility such as a hotel violates the state and health safety codes. State regulations also prohibit the use of any opiate--including buprenorphine--to detoxify narcotic addicts.

"The major problem that this doctor seems to face is with the regulations that govern the treatment of opiate addicts with an opiate in a nonlicensed facility," said Dr. Michael Miller, chairman of the quality improvement committee of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Investigators for the state medical board declined to comment Thursday. Board investigations, which often take more than a year, can result in criminal prosecutions. More commonly, when a doctor is determined to have violated state medical standards, the board deals with the case administratively or seeks license revocation.

Kipper, a Beverly Hills internist whose Lasky Drive office faces the Peninsula's rear entrance, declined to comment Thursday.

Last month, Kipper told The Times that he had kept the Peninsula management apprised of his activities at the hotel. But the hotel's management and owners said Kipper never told them he was conducting medical procedures on the property.

Ali V. Kasikci, the general manager of the Peninsula, said Thursday that the hotel had not been contacted by state investigators.

"The Peninsula has been an innocent bystander in all of this," Kasikci said. "These detoxes were being done covertly without our knowledge. The instant it was brought to our attention, we stopped doing business with Dr. Kipper."

Earlier this year, one rock star detoxed by Kipper was seen ordering a whiskey at the Peninsula bar during the course of his treatment. The rock star, who spoke with The Times on condition that he not be named, said he had no trouble gaining access to the opiates used for his treatment, even though they were supposed to be locked in a safe in the hotel room.

Kipper said that case was unique, describing the entertainer as "the most recalcitrant patient we've ever treated." The rock star underwent Kipper's treatment three times in two months but failed to stay off drugs.

Kipper said his program is safe and has a 70% success rate, which he defined as having patients admitted and maintained in a treatment facility for one month after leaving his supervision--a dubious standard, according to experts. Kipper charges $10,000 to $19,000 per week for detoxification (not including the hotel rate of up to $800 a night per room)--about four times the rate charged by several nationally recognized treatment clinics.

Despite its cost, Kipper said his treatment method is so popular that during one week this year he was detoxing four addicts in separate rooms around the Peninsula.

This week, another Beverly Hills physician, Dr. Stephen Scappa, told The Times that he too has detoxed wealthy addicts at the Peninsula. On Thursday, the hotel's management said it had no knowledge that Scappa had conducted detoxes on the premises.

In an interview, Scappa said he and his partner, drug counselor John Citro, have detoxed more than 150 drug addicts and alcoholics on an outpatient basis around Los Angeles over the past 16 years. Scappa, who is a certified addiction psychiatrist, said less than a quarter of his detoxification treatments were for heroin.

Scappa said he has conducted the bulk of his detoxes at patients' homes, but has detoxed a number of addicts at the Peninsula--which is located about a block from his Wilshire Boulevard office. Scappa said he typically charges about $10,000 for a weeklong detox, but has charged as much as $8,000 a day under "extraordinary circumstances."

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