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Doctor's prescription for tragedy with painkillers

Defense said patients bullied physician into prescribing painkillers. Families tell a story of tragic addiction.

April 09, 2010|By Scott Glover

When Dr. Daniel J. Healy wasn't busy treating patients, he apparently dreamed of writing books. Among the prospective titles: "A Doctor Should Be Wealthy," "Physician Entrepreneur" and "The Million Dollar Practice."

It's not hard to imagine why Healy might have considered himself an authority on such topics. By at least one measure, the small-town doctor from Duarte surpassed every other physician in the U.S., and he was getting rich in the process.

Healy ordered more than 1 million tablets of hydrocodone in 2008: more than any other doctor and 10 times more than the average American pharmacy, according to government records. The drug, better known by the brand names Vicodin and Norco, is an addictive painkiller for which there is a thriving black market, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

Healy hauled in so much cash that he allegedly kept an automatic money-counting machine in his office to quickly sort through the thousands of dollars that came in on a daily basis.

The problem, authorities say, was that Healy had abandoned medicine in pursuit of profits. He needlessly prescribed drugs to patients he didn't bother to examine in some cases, and sold them to others, authorities allege.

In court papers, Assistant U.S. Atty. David M. Herzog called Healy "nothing more than a drug dealer in a lab coat" who "created and nurtured an army of addicted customers." Some patients referred to him as "the Candyman," according to the documents.

Healy, 54, has pleaded guilty to one count of dispensing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose; other counts were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea. He is expected to be sentenced Monday. Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Manuel Real to send him to federal prison for more than 17 years. Healy's defense attorney has asked that his client be sentenced to less than five.

According to authorities, some of Healy's patients left his Kind Care Medical Center with hundreds or even thousands of pills at a time. One man who was pulled over shortly after leaving the clinic had a dozen commercial-sized bottles of Vicodin and three containers of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, 7,500 pills in all, authorities allege.

Healy came under scrutiny when the father of one of his regular patients complained to the police department in Monrovia, which borders Duarte. Over the next several months, Det. Rich Doney and DEA investigators Mark Nomady and Susannah Herkert interviewed patients, conducted surveillance and reviewed Healy's prescribing records.

After raiding Healy's office last year, authorities calculated that he made nearly $700,000 on sales of hydrocodone in 2008. It was during the raid that they found a notebook containing the would-be book titles.

Even before his most recent troubles, Healy had been placed on successive terms of probation by the California Medical Board after accusations of incompetence, dishonesty, fraudulent billing, aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine, and unprofessional conduct. He was still on probation when he began dealing drugs from his office, prosecutors contend.

In court papers, Healy's attorney, Roger J. Rosen, depicted a wholesome image of Healy, who as a child was literally a Boy Scout and an altar boy.

Most of Healy's patients loved and respected him, Rosen said. Those who are part of the government's case represent a tiny fraction of his practice. At times Healy tried to "gently address" his patients' addictions, the lawyer said, but his submissive personality made it difficult for him to stand up to those who demanded drugs.

His patients "bullied the hell out of him," Rosen said. "He made a mistake."

In interviews with The Times, some of Healy's former patients and their loved ones described a wake of misery in which parents fought to get their children off drugs, families were destroyed and finances drained.

Some of his patients were in their late teens or early 20s, people whom he met through his own sons, two of whom pleaded guilty to drug possession charges. Several patients' relatives unsuccessfully pleaded with Healy to stop supplying their loved ones with drugs. And, some patients carry lasting emotional and physical scars from their association with Healy.

'I was getting high for free'

Luis Partida Jr. knew Healy as a dad before he knew him as a doctor.

He was friends with Healy's youngest son, Brenton, and had been to the Healy home several times. In his circle of friends, Partida said, he began to hear rumors that the elder Healy was no ordinary doctor. One friend told him Healy liberally dispensed drugs and that people could get whatever they wanted, according to court records.

Partida soon learned for himself that Healy would give him whatever he was willing to pay for, he said in a recent interview. He got hooked on Norco, he said.

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