Doctor Loses License Over Drug Charges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A doctor accused of prescribing narcotic painkillers for patients at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center and then injecting herself with the drugs has had her medical license revoked by state regulators.

Dr. Monica Watts Hurtado, formerly a first-year resident at the county-run hospital in Sylmar, ordered nurses to prepare two shots of Demerol for patients but took one herself and gave the patient a second shot of saline solution she secretly prepared, state investigators said.

Hurtado was fired from Olive View in 1991 after switching needles on five or six patients, according to charges filed by the Medical Board of California. She worked at the hospital's busy gynecology and obstetrics department after graduating from the UCLA School of Medicine in 1989.

Last year, Hurtado, 31, was arrested at a San Bernardino residence as she mixed an injection of heroin for herself in the bathroom, accompanied by her infant son, according to medical board documents. Police said she admitted she was a heroin user and had numerous needle marks on her arm.

The medical board in June revoked Hurtado's license by default after she failed to demand a hearing to defend herself on charges that she fraudulently prescribed drugs for patients but took them herself. The board released documents on the case this week.

State Deputy Atty. Gen. E. A. Jones, who had been assigned to prosecute Hurtado, said Wednesday that apparently no Olive View patients suffered because Hurtado had diverted pain-suppressing medications.

"It may have been a situation where patients didn't really need (Demerol) but she prescribed it anyway," he said. An Olive View spokeswoman said patients probably were not injured by the saline shots because the solution is harmless.

Hurtado could not be reached for comment. The medical board could not provide information Wednesday on what, if any, jobs were held by the physician after she was dismissed from Olive View.

State investigators said that in April, 1991, Hurtado ordered a nurse to prepare two shots of Demerol for a patient. With Hurtado in the patient's room, the nurse placed one syringe on a desk and turned to administer the other.

Later, a supervising nurse saw a syringe on the desk with the needle improperly pointing out. After the first nurse said she did not leave the needle in that position, it was tested and found to contain salt solution instead of Demerol.

Hurtado later admitted that on five or six occasions she prescribed two doses of Demerol for patients, one larger and one smaller, according to board documents. She said she gave the larger Demerol shot to herself. She was fired from the hospital in May, 1991. In May, 1993, Hurtado tried to pass an altered prescription for the narcotic painkiller Vicodin at a drugstore in Highland, state officials said. A pharmacist summoned San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies.

After Hurtado was arrested on heroin charges in June, 1993, she was placed in a diversion program aimed at treating medical professionals addicted to drugs or alcohol. She was also ordered to stop practicing medicine for one year. But she was dropped from diversion for failing to complete the treatment program, state investigators said.

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