Oxnard physician Michael Huff, the former president of the Ventura County Medical Assn., has been barred from practicing medicine for nine months after admitting he overprescribed highly addictive painkillers to five patients, state officials said Friday.
In a settlement agreement signed by Huff last month and accepted this week by a seven-member panel of the Medical Board of California, the 54-year-old doctor agreed to the license suspension, $30,000 in investigation fees and seven years of probation with strict conditions, including random urine testing, courses on medical ethics and monitoring by another doctor.
"This is a big decision, a particularly strong discipline," Candis Cohen, a state board spokeswoman, said in an interview Friday.
The license suspension, which went into effect Monday, bars Huff from seeing any patients or practicing medicine in any form until April. However, while on probation, Huff cannot prescribe any of the high-level painkillers that got him into trouble, such as OxyContin and methadone, but he may qualify to administer other low-level drugs, such as Darvocet, Valium and Xanax.
Cohen said members of the board's Division of Medical Quality panel voted to accept the agreement after reviewing evidence gathered by state medical investigators and studying the opinions of state medical experts who reviewed the violations.
Although Cohen described the penalties as stiff, she said Huff could regain his status as a full-fledged physician. "If he successfully completes probation, then his license will be restored
A receptionist at Huff's Oxnard office referred calls to his Ventura criminal attorney, James Farley, who was out of his office Friday afternoon and did not return a message left with his secretary.
After Huff's license was temporarily suspended by a state administrative law judge in late March, Farley said his client was being condemned because the "traditional medical community has no understanding of the use of the narcotics. There's a very strong prejudice against those engaged in the practice."
One of Huff's former patients, who publicly complained about the doctor in April after establishing a daily habit of 20 painkillers, declined to comment on the agreement Friday. The woman said that while she was in a hospital detox program recently, she received several angry phone calls from former patients of Huff's.
Huff's voluminous case file included complaints from people who became hooked on painkillers under his care, but also comments from patients who wanted the doctor exonerated and returned to his practice so he could write prescriptions, Cohen said.
In the agreement, Huff admitted he excessively prescribed highly addictive painkillers to five patients, including two women who later needed major detoxification treatments. Huff gave one those women, then 21, the drugs OxyContin, Vicodin and methadone despite the fact that she had an ongoing three-year addiction to intravenous heroin and OxyContin.
"During the treatment period, patient B.B. had abscesses and track marks," according to the settlement agreement.
The other woman who went through detox, a then-51-year-old identified in the settlement as "D.D.," had been taking 80 milligrams of OxyContin each day for back pain before seeing Huff.
While seeing Huff between May and November 2001, she was prescribed 1,000 milligrams a day of OxyContin, 2,510 milligrams a day of Soma, 28 milligrams a day of Norco and was given 100 methadone tablets to take on an as-needed basis.
Additionally, Huff admitted that he had written a Vicodin prescription for a woman he met at a friend's party without performing a physical examination. Huff also admitted in the settlement that he had failed to properly store and secure bottles of heavy-duty painkillers at his medical office, a violation of law.
Although Huff's case with the state has been resolved, he remains the target of an investigation by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Renee Ferguson said Friday.
Criminal charges have not been filed, but deputies on a drug task force have alleged in court affidavits that Huff overprescribed painkillers to addicts and prescribed so many opiates that he should have known some of the drugs would end up being resold on the streets.
Further, according to the investigators' affidavits, Huff has been suspected of overprescribing OxyContin and similar medications that may have been a contributing factor in the deaths of three patients. During the last couple of years, OxyContin has become popular with teenagers.
Complaints against Huff began trickling in to the state medical board more than two years ago.
The investigation by sheriff's officials that started last year has so far turned up suspected drug abusers and street dealers with legitimate prescriptions from Huff, court affidavits showed.