Physician, Druggist Targets of Inquiry
State narcotics officials are preparing arrest warrants for a Stanton physician and his pharmacist following a yearlong undercover investigation that turned up evidence that they were dispensing prescription drugs to patients who had not been examined, an investigator said Friday.
Spring Robbins, an investigator with the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement in Santa Ana, said the investigation of Dr. Lowell O. Kirk and pharmacist John Movsesian began in July, 1988, when an Orange County Sheriff’s Department informant said Kirk’s office was the place to go for easy access to addictive prescription drugs such as Darvon or Valium.
In search warrant papers made public in Orange County Superior and Municipal courts this week, state officials claim that Kirk has committed a variety of offenses, including:
- Prescribing a diuretic to an anorexic woman;
- Prescribing five different kinds of medication at the same time to a woman who later suffered an overdose;
- Dispensing Darvon and Valium to practically anyone who walked in and asked for them.
Kirk, 57, who received a warning from the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance five years ago to stop prescribing excessive amounts of drugs, told The Times on Friday that he made some “mistakes” in prescribing drugs to patients but denied that he had engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.
However, Dr. Sidney N. Franklin, a regional consultant for the state medical board, wrote in a report filed in March with the board that, after reviewing files on Kirk: “It was obvious that Dr. Kirk was very much involved in giving patients exactly what they wanted.”
Kirk is still practicing medicine at his Western Avenue office, but the board is expected to seek suspension of his medical license once charges are filed against him, informed sources told The Times Friday.
Franklin also wrote in the report that Kirk’s judgment in giving the anorexic woman a prescription for a diuretic could have been “a prescription for her death.”
Movsesian, 57, shut down his pharmacy at Kirk’s Crescent Medical Group office at 10799 Western Ave. two weeks ago. Kirk said Movsesian was advised by the state Board of Pharmacy that he should not try to seek a renewal for his pharmacist’s license, which was about to lapse. Movsesian could not be reached for comment Friday.
Kirk, a soft-spoken father of five who has been practicing in Orange County for 29 years, said nervously when he was interviewed Friday, “I feel like a man persecuted who can’t do anything about it.”
His one serious error, he said, was in providing the medication that may have led to the anorexic woman’s losing even more weight.
‘I Made a Mistake’
“I’m not proud of that one; I made a mistake,” Kirk said. “But in these other cases, all I’ve ever done is try to relieve people from pain or discomfort. Surely that cannot be a crime.”
Investigator Robbins used undercover operators who posed as new patients to gather evidence against Kirk. Their reports, contained in court papers, say that numerous patients were observed getting pills from Movsesian’s pharmacy without providing prescriptions.
“Dr. Kirk’s office was a revolving door for these drug addicts,” Robbins said. “The last time we were there, the place was just full of them.”
For example, the investigators reported, one 20-year-old woman was observed telling Movsesian: “John, I have $39 on me for Xanax and Darvon, OK?” The pharmacist complied with the verbal order even though there was no evidence that the woman had a prescription, the court papers say. Darvon is a painkiller; Xanax is for treatment of anxiety.
Last October, an undercover narcotics officer, Michelle Boswell, went to Kirk’s office posing as a new patient. She paid $60 for an initial office visit, and Kirk did see her. She reported that he prescribed 100 Valium for her after she told him she wanted them because they made her “feel good.” She then asked for Darvon too, saying that they made her “more social, happy and up.” She reported that Kirk asked her whether 50 Darvon would be enough.
According to Robbins, Boswell reported that Kirk did not examine her and that she did not give any medical reason for wanting the drugs, which is required by law.
More Visits by Investigators
Five weeks later, Boswell returned with another investigator, Donald Rowden, who posed as her boyfriend. The search warrant affidavit states that Rowden walked away with three bottles of controlled substances without having received any medical examination.
Rowden returned two months later and asked for more pills for himself and also for more Darvon for Boswell, who was not with him. According to Rowden’s report, Kirk asked which type she had been using. When Rowden answered that it was a gray-and-red capsule, Kirk reportedly responded: “Compound 65--sure, let’s get her some.”
Kirk wrote a prescription for 30 Darvon. But Rowden reported that he asked Movsesian whether he could have 50 instead of 30. Movsesian reportedly said “yeah” without calling Kirk for approval, as is required.
In his report for the state medical board, Franklin focused on the case of a 30-year-old female anorexic patient of Kirk’s who was recently hospitalized for four weeks of force-feeding to bring her weight up from 85 pounds to 114.
Another doctor who was also treating the woman, Dr. Timothy S. Schmidt of Yorba Linda, made a separate complaint to the state board about Kirk.
Schmidt said he and the woman’s psychiatrist, Dr. John McDaniels, were concerned about her weight loss and feared that someone was giving her Lasix, a diuretic that could have an adverse effect on an anorexic.
Schmidt told state officials that the doctors believed that Kirk was prescribing Lasix for her after the woman’s father found her supply of pill vials in a search of her apartment.
“The doctor (Kirk) is giving the patient what she wants--to make her even thinner at the cost of possibly causing her death,” Franklin wrote.
McDaniels reported to state medical board officials that he called Kirk about the woman’s case and Kirk replied: “Oh yes, my little anorexic.”
Kirk told The Times he gave the woman the diuretic because she had complained of puffiness in her legs and feet and he thought it could help her lose water.
State narcotics investigators also focused on the April 25 hospitalization of a 34-year-old Garden Grove woman who suffered from a non-fatal overdose of prescription drugs the day after her mother, also a patient of Kirk’s, was found dead. Authorities reported that the daughter was taking five different kinds of medications prescribed by Kirk, all at the same time.
Kirk Defends Actions
Kirk said Friday that he was “surprised” to learn that his troubles have persisted.
“They came out here and took a lot of my files, but then I didn’t hear anything,” Kirk said. “Frankly, I was hoping this would all blow away.”
Kirk said that some drug addicts “may” have taken advantage of him but that he usually tried to spot such people. In any case, he said, they make up a very small minority of his overall practice.
Roy Webb of Cerritos, who said he is an administrator who runs Kirk’s medical office, said Kirk and some other doctors he represents in Orange County who have been practicing for a long time are not used to many state medical regulations.
“A lot of these older doctors are used to doing things their own way,” Webb said. “Then when the state medical board people come in and want tighter regulations, some of these doctors don’t understand it. Maybe some of these doctors are a bit liberal in dispensing drugs.”
Kirk was investigated by the state medical board in 1984, according to court records, and agreed then to stop prescribing excessive amounts of drugs.
Kirk said that at that time he had been giving some people prescriptions for as many as 100 Valium “to save them the cost of another office visit.”
Kirk said Movsesian leased space from him but that Movsesian operated the pharmacy on his own. They have been associated about 10 years, Kirk said.
Webb predicted Friday that ultimately no charges would be filed against Kirk.
“The police like to come in, box up the files, flash their guns and have a good time,” Webb said, “but then they put the boxes in warehouses and we never hear from them again.”