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Doctor's Alleged Misdeeds Detailed

An Oxnard physician prescribed large quantities of narcotics to patients, affidavit says.

March 30, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Complaints about Dr. Michael Huff began trickling in to the Medical Board of California nearly two years ago, according to records released last week.

Filed by insurance carriers, anonymous tipsters and in one case a frantic mother, they all sounded a similar alarm: The Oxnard physician allegedly was prescribing large quantities of addictive -- and potentially lethal -- painkillers to his patients.

The number of complaints grew late last year, when Ventura County narcotics investigators began receiving more tips about Huff's prescribing practices on the streets of upscale Thousand Oaks.

One after another, the investigators detained suspected drug abusers and street dealers who produced legitimate prescriptions from Huff, the records state.

Much of what investigators uncovered in a six-month investigation is contained in a 95-page search warrant affidavit filed last month.

The document was released last week by state prosecutors after they obtained a temporary suspension of Huff's medical license.

The Feb. 24 affidavit, written by narcotics specialist Victor Fazio of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, contends that Huff, 54, prescribed large quantities of narcotics to patients, some of them drug addicts with criminal backgrounds. Huff favored opiate-based drugs such as methadone, OxyContin, Dilaudid and Actiq, a raspberry-flavored lollipop that is stronger than morphine, according to the affidavit.

Huff and his attorney declined to comment last week. In an interview with state officials last year, the doctor defended his actions, saying the dosages were appropriate and denying that he filled prescriptions for abusers.

The sheriff's investigator contends in the affidavit that there is evidence that some of Huff's patients sold their drugs on the street and that others have been harmed because of his alleged prescribing practices.

Fazio also alleges that Huff may be tied to at least three drug-related deaths in Ventura County over the last three years. In all three cases, Huff was either the current or former prescribing physician, Fazio states in his affidavit.

No criminal charges have been filed against Huff. A former president of the Ventura County Medical Assn., Huff is barred from practicing until he fulfills several conditions, including taking a refresher course on prescribing standards.

Although the Medical Board of California has not completed its investigation, state prosecutors said they sought an immediate suspension because Huff, they contend, presents a danger to the community.

Huff's license could be permanently revoked if the board finds that he practiced in an incompetent manner or grossly violated state health laws.

Huff was investigated in 1998 after authorities received a complaint that he had overprescribed methadone.

But the Medical Board of California decided it was a minor violation and closed the case after counseling the doctor, records show.

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