Doctor whose office was searched by federal agents defends her procedures for prescribing drugs

A Rowland Heights physician suspected of illegally dealing prescription pain medications and other powerful narcotics to addicts — some of whom died of overdoses — said she is being made a scapegoat and that the responsibility for any misuse of the drugs belongs to the users.

“I never intended to kill anybody,” Dr. Lisa Tseng said late Wednesday, as federal and state officials raided her office. “I really believe I did nothing wrong. I was really strict with my patients, and I followed guidelines. If one of my patients decides to take a month’s supply in a day, then there is nothing I can do about that.”

In a federal search warrant affidavit, investigators said they suspected Tseng of routinely prescribing oxycodone, a powerful narcotic pain reliever similar to heroin, and other highly abused medications to drug-seekers without properly assessing their medical need or their apparent addictions.

In one of three deaths cited in the affidavit, a young man overdosed after Tseng prescribed him drugs; in another, a 20-year-old overdosed after taking drugs given to him by a suspected dealer who allegedly got them from Tseng, according to the affidavit sworn by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Robert J. Harkins and filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Autopsy reports reviewed by The Times and interviews with family members indicate Tseng was a prescribing physician in five other cases in which her patients died of overdoses. In a sixth case, family members blame Tseng for prescribing drugs to a young addict who shot himself to death. There were no drugs prescribed by Tseng in his system at the time of his suicide, records show.

The investigation is ongoing, and Tseng has been charged with no crime. She retained her license to practice medicine. But DEA officials suspended her license to prescribe controlled substances, calling her “an imminent danger to public health and safety.”

“That is a totally wrongful allegation,” Tseng said in an interview. “I’m not trying to kill anybody.”

DEA agents and California Medical Board investigators searched Tseng’s office for the better part of the day, hauling out paper and computer records. Tseng spent the day in an office building nearby taking a previously scheduled medical certification examination.

The doctor, whose full name is Hsiu-Ying Lisa Tseng, discussed the investigation in the parking lot of the office where she took the test. She said many of the allegations in the affidavit stem from confusion, on her part, about rules governing the treatment of addicts.

Tseng said she had taken a class on addiction treatment and applied for a special federal permit. But, she said, she did not realize that, until she actually had the permit, she was not allowed to prescribe addiction treatment drugs, such as methadone and Suboxone. She suggested that the government should have moved more swiftly to issue her a permit.

“That’s the part I feel really angry about,” she said. “I applied for [the permit], and it was their slowness not to permit me.”

Tseng, a general osteopathic physician with no specialty certifications, said she frequently got telephone calls from parents angry that she was prescribing such powerful drugs to their young adult children.

“They call me all sorts of names — drug doctor, drug-dealing doctor,” Tseng said.

“I tell parents a lot of times it’s their problem,” she said.