Med Board Fines Doc For Improper Opioid Prescribing; Another For Stealing Drugs

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The state Medical Examining Board Tuesday disciplined a Fairfield pulmonologist for improperly prescribing opioids and a former UConn Health doctor who had stolen medication from the health center for his private practice.

Dr. Igal Staw, who works at Respiratory Associates in Fairfield, was reprimanded, fined $7,500 and has been permanently restricted from prescribing opioids, under a consent order he agreed to. He also must hire a supervisor to monitor his drug prescriptions and will be placed on two years of probation if his state registration to prescribe controlled substances is ever reinstated, the order said.

In 2012 and 2013, Staw prescribed opioids to eight patients with chronic pain, including some who may have been abusing the medicine, the order said. He also failed to document the reasons for the prescriptions or justify in the patients’ medical charts why he was increasing the doses, state records show.

In an unrelated case in 2008 in Norwalk, Staw was sentenced to two years of probation for scamming insurance companies out of $171,000, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Staw, then 70, of Westport, admitted to engaging in health care fraud in 2006 by claiming to insurance companies that he had provided physician services to patients when the patients had actually received physical and massage therapy and nutritional counseling by non-physicians, the press release said.

He paid back the insurance companies and also paid the federal government $250,000 to settle allegations that his medical practice Respiratory Associates, then based in Norwalk, filed false Medicare claims between 2000 and 2006 for the physical and massage therapy, the press release said.

State Department of Public Health records show that in 2008, the medical board had reprimanded Staw and placed him on probation for two years.

In the UConn Health case, the board fined Dr. Micha Abeles of West Hartford $5,000 for stealing Depo-Medrol, an anti-inflammatory drug, and Humira, which is used to treat arthritis, from the hospital’s stock for use in his private practice in Meriden, state records show.

The thefts occurred in 2015 and 2016. Abeles retired in 2016 from his post as associate director of the UConn Multipurpose Arthritis Center, DPH records show. He continues to treat patients part-time in private practice, the records show.

Abeles had been arrested in June of 2016 and charged with one count of second-degree larceny in connection with the thefts, the Hartford Courant reported. In September, Abeles, then 71, was granted a special form of probation for one year, the Courant reported. Abeles had been at UConn for 40 years and replaced the medication he had taken before the arrest, the Courant said. A condition of his probation was that he pay UConn $20,000, the newspaper reported.

On Tuesday, the board also reprimanded Dr. Tom O’Connor of Bloomfield for failing to adequately document physical exams for or provide data to support prescribing testosterone replacement therapy for eight patients between 2010 and 2012, state records show.

The board also placed O’Connor on probation for six months and ordered him to take courses in recordkeeping and the treatment of hypogonadism, a condition in which the body does not produce enough testosterone.

While admitting no wrongdoing, Staw, Abeles and O’Connor did not contest the allegations against them.

The board also restricted the medical license of Dr. Brian McCarthy, an orthopedic surgeon from Torrington, so that he can only engage in the non-clinical practice of medicine or conduct medical research. State records show that he has been diagnosed with an orthopedic condition that may affect his ability to practice medicine and surgery.

The board also reprimanded Dr. Marjorie A. Smith of San Francisco to match a reprimand imposed on her in 2016 by California officials. Officials in that state found that between 2011 and 2013, she failed to adequately document medical services provided to a patient. State law allows the Connecticut board to discipline doctors who have licenses in Connecticut when they have been disciplined in other states.

The board Tuesday also took a rare political stance when it approved a resolution saying it opposed the transfer of $5 from each medical license fee to the state’s general fund rather than having it go to HAVEN, a confidential program that is an alternative to public disciplinary action for health-care professionals who suffer from chemical dependency, emotional or behavioral disorders or physical or mental illness.

In an emotional report to the board, Maureen Sullivan Dinnan, HAVEN’s executive director, said her agency needs the money to properly serve a growing caseload of doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals who need assistance.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy included the transfer of the funds to the general fund in his proposed budget, board members said.

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