Federal drug agents and medical board investigators have raided the offices… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)
Federal drug agents and medical board investigators on Friday raided the offices of a doctor suspected of prescribing narcotic painkillers and other widely abused medications to patients who had no legitimate need for them.
John Dimowo, a pain doctor featured last year in a Times investigation into prescription overdose deaths, is a prolific prescriber of painkillers, such as Vicodin, writing an average of at least 37 prescriptions a day, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Undercover agents posed as patients at Dimowo's offices in Wilmington and Anaheim and were able to get prescriptions for addictive drugs without the doctor examining them, the affidavit states.
Dimowo, who has not been arrested or charged with a crime and remains free to practice, declined to discuss the investigation.
"I cannot talk to you," he said when contacted by telephone. "Call my attorney."
Lawyers for Dimowo did not return calls requesting comment.
Since at least 2011, the medical board has received complaints about Dimowo's practice from family members of patients, pharmacists and others who believed Dimowo's prescriptions were fueling his patients' addictions, according to the affidavit.
The Times reported in November that five of Dimowo's patients fatally overdosed on medications he prescribed between 2009 and 2010, coroner's records show. They ranged in age from 26 to 59.
According to the affidavit, investigators were seeking the medical records of patients who "possibly died of overdosing on prescription medication." The medical board had obtained a list of dead patients from the Orange County coroner's office after The Times' report, the affidavit said.
Dimowo, a native of Nigeria, was trained in anesthesiology and pain management in the United States. He is board-certified in both specialties. In 2007, after serving as a chief of anesthesia at Anaheim Regional Medical Center, he opened his pain management practice because he wanted to spend time with patients and help ease their suffering, Dimowo said in an interview with The Times last year.
It can be difficult, he said, to tell whether someone truly needs narcotic painkillers or is simply looking to get high.
"Pain is a difficult thing to define," he said in the interview. "You can't say, 'No. You don't have pain.... You're just seeking drugs.' It's very difficult to tell anybody that."
But if he believes a patient is abusing drugs, he said, "they are out of my clinic. I would send them to a psychiatrist, because that's where they belong."
Informed of the fatal overdoses identified by The Times, he said the patients and their family members shared responsibility.
"We all need to be vigilant," he said.
Authorities suspect Dimowo is violating a state law prohibiting doctors from prescribing controlled substances to people without a legitimate need, the affidavit states.
One mother complained to the medical board that Dimowo prescribed powerful painkillers and other medications to her 24-year-old daughter who had no reason for such drugs, the affidavit states. She said her daughter was "perfectly healthy until she started to take all of these medications." The woman started finding pill bottles with Dimowo's name on the labels in her daughter's bedroom. Soon thereafter, the daughter was hospitalized for an overdose, lost weight and went through severe withdrawal, the affidavit states.
Another woman told the board that Dimowo prescribed at least five powerful medications to her sister who also had no need for them, the affidavit states. She reported that her sister said "anyone from the street can go to Dr. Dimowo and get a prescription for Oxy without any medical indication."
One undercover agent received prescriptions for two commonly abused drugs — Norco, a narcotic painkiller, and the stimulant Adderall — without being examined by Dimowo, according to the affidavit. Dimowo did require him to sign a form that certified that he was not an undercover agent, the affidavit states.
Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.