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Local doc under increasing scrutiny from DEA

February 8, 2011 12:32:27 AM PST
When you think about drug abuse among kids, most don't think about the type of drugs you can find in a medicine cabinet, but prescription drug abuse among teens is at an all-time high.

Some addicts score their drugs on the street, but others head straight for a doctor. One local doctor in particular is under increasing scrutiny from federal drug agents.

Justin Smith is a recovering drug addict.

"For a while, all I cared about was getting high," Smith said. "It's ruined my life."

He started with OxyContin, but soon, he needed more.

"Eventually it got worse, I moved on to heroin," he said.

Dr. Lisa Tseng was Smith's physician, and she's also the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

"She's definitely trying to make money off the fact that she'll prescribe whatever you want," Smith said.

Smith said he saw Tseng three times about a year ago, and she prescribed him Opana, Soma and Xanax.

"I think she's a legal drug dealer," said Dimitri Zarate, who said he has overdosed six times. His addiction was fed by prescriptions from a roster of doctors, including Tseng.

"Dr. Tseng came in with a prescription pad already out, she already knew, and within five minutes I had a prescription for 60 OxyContin, 60 Norcos and 60 Xanax," Zarate said.

Zarate said he went to Tseng five times about a year and a half ago.

"I lost my wife, I lost my condo, I was on my deathbed," Zarate said.

According to an August search warrant affidavit, the DEA has linked Tseng to at least two overdose deaths.

So far, she has not been charged with any crime, but the DEA has taken away her ability to prescribe controlled substances, calling her an "imminent danger to public health and safety."

On the agency's website, the DEA says Tseng routinely prescribed "highly abused controlled substances to drug-seeking individuals, many of them between the ages of 18 and 26, while conducting cursory or no medical examination."

It's a growing problem for teens and young adults across Southern California.

"They go to parties where they combine pills and into a bowl and have a pill party," said Sarah Pullen, a special agent with the DEA. "Many of these pills are literally just like heroin."

Pullen said kids get hooked on pills, and when they can't afford them anymore, they turn to heroin because it can be bought from the street for cheaper.

"They get the same high, but for $15 versus $80 for a pill," Pullen said.

Nearly one in 10 high school seniors say they've taken Vicodin for non-medical purposes, and one in 20 admits to abusing OxyContin.

"The problem - it's epidemic. It's a public health epidemic," said Terry Kelleman, who specializes in addiction. "From 1991, 40,000 prescriptions were written for opioids, OxyContin, Vicodin, whatever. In the year 2007, it was 180 million."

Social withdrawal, poor judgment and forgetfulness are just a few of the signs your teen may be abusing prescription drugs.

A request for an interview with Tseng was denied, but her attorney released this statement: "Dr. Tseng cares deeply about all her patients and looks forward to her opportunity to vindicate herself in court."


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