The young, white men who came in droves to the Walgreens Pharmacy in Rowland Heights had much in common: They traveled long distances to fill prescriptions for powerful painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. Often, they paid in cash. And when the pharmacy would occasionally run out of the drugs, they'd become angry and demand that pharmacists call around so they could get their pills from somewhere else.
But the link that bound them all together was Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng.
Angela Li, a Walgreens pharmacist, testified Wednesday that she became so concerned about Tseng's patients, and the doctor herself, that she refused to fill prescriptions. Twice, Li said, she called authorities at the Drug Enforcement Administration to complain about the doctor's prescribing practices.
"If I see a prescription that may cause more harm than good for the patient ... I'm not going to fill it," Li said.
Li testified as part of a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try Tseng on charges of second-degree murder in connection with the overdose deaths of three of her patients. Tseng, 42, has pleaded not guilty.
Tseng's storefront clinic in Rowland Heights has been described by witnesses as a busy practice, with patients waiting up to three hours to see the doctor.
Tseng prescribed addictive narcotics to patients despite warning signs that they were abusing drugs, and she failed to adequately examine and diagnose them, according to several government witnesses.
Tseng is charged in connection with the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 28, of Lake Forest; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert; and Joey Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student from San Ramon, east of San Francisco. All three men overdosed in 2009.
Prosecutors have identified four other patients from Orange County who died of overdoses in the years 2007 through 2009 while under Tseng's care. Authorities have not charged Tseng in connection with those cases, but contend that those deaths should have put her on notice that her prescribing practices were dangerous, especially since coroners' investigators had interviewed her about those patients.
Deputy Dist. Atty. John Niedermann, the lead prosecutor on the case, said Tseng ignored those warning signs. He said her "conscious disregard for human life" was one of the factors that justified the murder charges.
Testimony in the case is expected resume Thursday.