Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction
A Northern California doctor is behind bars facing four counts of second-degree murder after prosecutors allege he fatally overprescribed dangerously high levels of powerful opioids and narcotics to his senior patients.
Thomas McNeese Keller was arrested Monday, Aug. 12, in Santa Rosa on the murder charges along with felony elder abuse and issuing prescriptions without legitimate medical purpose. Keller, 72, remains held in Sonoma County custody pending further arraignment and a bail review Aug. 20 in Sonoma Superior Court.
Four of Keller’s patients died in the space of a year from June 2016 to July 2017, Sonoma prosecutors said in a five-page complaint filed Aug. 8.
Saying the nation’s opioid epidemic is “destroying our communities and taking our loved ones,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, “When we see evidence of a crime and patient harm, we must act,” in a statement Wednesday announcing Keller’s arrest.
“Doctors take an oath to protect patients and not engage in behavior that can risk their health and safety,” Becerra said.
But prosecutors allege Keller did, time and time again between October 2011 and July 2017, prescribing a panoply of the highly addictive drugs while “consistently and dramatically increas(ing) his patients’ opioid presciptions,” Becerra’s office said in the arrest announcement.
Sonoma prosecutors allege Keller flouted numerous red flags prescribing maximum dosages of muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax while boosting his patients’ opioid prescriptions.
“Keller is alleged to have continued his dangerous treatment despite red flag warnings from pharmacies and insurance companies, his own observation of his patients and knowledge of his patients’ deaths from drug overdose,” said attorney general’s officials.
Sonoma County prosecutors say Keller for years prescribed dangerous amounts of addictive pain medications including Vicodin and Percocet, OxyContin, oxycodone and morphine to nine of his patients.
Becerra announced the physician’s arrest Wednesday, the product of a state Department of Justice investigators’ probe into elder abuse and Medi-Cal fraud.