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Doctor who admitted dealing drugs to get his license back

The state medical board says Nathan Kuemmerle, who lost his privilege to prescribe drugs after entering guilty plea, will be able to treat patients again.

February 02, 2013|By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times
  • Kuemmerle was the state's most prolific prescriber of Adderall, a widely abused stimulant, records show.
Kuemmerle was the state's most prolific prescriber of Adderall,… (JB Reed / Bloomberg News )

A West Hollywood psychiatrist who pleaded guilty to felony drug dealing after pills he prescribed turned up for sale on Craigslist will be able to get his medical license back in a year under an agreement announced Friday by the Medical Board of California.

The sanction, though harsh by board standards, allows Nathan Kuemmerle, 40, a former methamphetamine user, to treat patients again as soon as next February.

As a result of the criminal charges, Kuemmerle had lost his privilege to prescribe controlled substances and must apply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration if he wants it restored. Kuemmerle agreed to undergo random drug testing, enroll in a physician ethics class and seek psychological counseling, among other conditions.

Kuemmerle was featured in a Dec. 30 Times report on the state's failure to use its vast prescription drug database to identify reckless prescribing by physicians.

In 2009, Kuemmerle was the state's most prolific prescriber of Adderall, a widely abused stimulant, records show. His prescribing drew scrutiny only after Redondo Beach narcotics detectives arrested a suspected drug dealer peddling Adderall pills on Craigslist. The suspect identified Kuemmerle as the source of the prescriptions.

Two months later, a second suspected drug dealer arrested in Arizona also pointed authorities to Kuemmerle. When drug agents checked the state's prescription drug database, known as CURES, they discovered that in 2009 Kuemmerle prescribed nearly four times as many of the highest-dose Adderall pills as the No. 2 doctor on the list, records show. Additionally, records show, he was the state's No. 2 prescriber of the most highly controlled narcotic painkillers.

Kuemmerle was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2011 to drug dealing and was sentenced to three years' probation.

Federal agents had alleged that Kuemmerle was selling prescriptions to people he had never seen, much less examined, records show. Kuemmerle wrote an average of 15 prescriptions per day for controlled substances over a four-year period, a figure a medical expert described as "remarkably high," records show.

Narcotics detectives said they were amazed that Kuemmerle was able to prescribe so many drugs undetected for so long, even though state authorities had access to a database that collected a record every time a pharmacy dispensed one.

Kuemmerle could not be reached for comment.

The types of drugs Kuemmerle prescribed are fueling an epidemic of overdose deaths that has drawn the attention of drug enforcement agencies, lawmakers and medical authorities. The response has largely focused on illicit sources of prescription drugs, such as pharmacy robberies and teens stealing from home medicine cabinets.

But a Times investigation of more than 3,700 prescription drug deaths in Southern California found that nearly half of the decedents had a doctor's prescription for one or more of the medications that caused or contributed to their deaths.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged states to mine prescription drug monitoring databases to identify and stop reckless prescribers. At least six states do so. California does not.

lisa.girion@latimes.com

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