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Former patient tells of easily getting drugs from doctor

The witness at the preliminary hearing for Dr. Lisa Tseng of Rowland Heights, who is accused of second-degree murder in the deaths of three men, testifies that he overdosed three times in two days.

June 09, 2012|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa'" Tseng at her preliminary hearing. Prosecutors are trying to show that she knew patients were dying under her care and that her prescribing practices were harmful.
Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa'" Tseng at her preliminary hearing.… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Michael Young had tried Oxycontin once before he began seeing Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng. He had complained about pain in his hand to a friend, a patient of Tseng's, who gave him a pill and referred him to the doctor.

Young liked the strength of the painkiller and quickly set up an appointment.

Months later, Young woke up on a gurney, listening as paramedics talked around him and Tseng stood nearby.

"The last day I saw her, I overdosed in her office," he said.

Young 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.

In a week of testimony, government witnesses have described Tseng's busy clinic in Rowland Heights as frequented by young white men who traveled long distances to see her. Witnesses said Tseng failed to adequately examine and diagnose them and prescribed addictive narcotics despite warning signs that they were abusing drugs.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Tseng knew patients were dying under her care and that her prescribing practices were harmful.

Young was in his 20s when he first started going to Tseng around 2007. He made the 45-minute drive from his home in Corona to see the doctor once a month for about a year and a half.

Before his first visit, he said, he was coached by his friend to lie to the doctor and tell her he had the pain disorder fibromyalgia so he could be sure to get the powerful drugs he wanted.

After a few visits, Young's trips to see Tseng became "in and out" trips. After about two-minute visits, "I was able to come in and get a prescription written and walk away," he said.

Young's addiction took hold quickly, he said. At one point, he overdosed three times in two days. After overdosing in Tseng's office, he put himself in drug rehabilitation and stopped seeing the doctor.

Jeffrey Gomez, an investigator for the Medical Board of California, testified that he posed as a patient three times in an undercover investigation of Tseng. He told the doctor he was a former heroin abuser.

Though he gave "absolutely no indication for pain" and told Tseng he was sharing the pills she prescribed with his sister and a friend, she continued to prescribe to him, he said.

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 Oakland. All of the men died in 2009.

Testimony is expected to resume Monday.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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