A Santa Barbara family practice physician was arrested Wednesday on federal drug charges after a months-long investigation.
Dr. Julio Diaz, 63, of Goleta, faces a criminal complaint of distribution of controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and without legitimate medical purpose, said a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
An affidavit provided to Noozhawk after Wednesday’s arrest describes allegations that his drug-prescribing habits are related to nearly a dozen deaths among his patients and hundreds of visits to local emergency rooms. Click here to read Noozhawk’s full report.
Santa Barbara police Lt. Lorenzo Duarte, a department spokesman, told Noozhawk that Diaz was arrested at his home in the 400 block of Cannon Green Drive in Goleta around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday after a “lengthy” investigation.
Early Wednesday afternoon, DEA officials were clearing out computer hard drives, filing boxes and other items at Diaz’s office at the Family Care Clinic, 510 N. Milpas St. in Santa Barbara.
At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, a half-dozen DEA agents led the handcuffed Diaz out of the building and to a waiting black SUV. He spoke little at the scene, but said he was being arrested for “prescribing too much.”
He is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in Santa Ana, DEA officials told Noozhawk.
Diaz has been a licensed member of the Medical Board of California since 1981 and has no public actions against him. Only formal actions taken by the medical board are reported on its Web site, however, leaving little information available to consumers.
During research for Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series, multiple sources — ranging from pharmacists, emergency-room doctors, families and law enforcement — alleged that Diaz consistently overprescribes pain medication, among other things.
Santa Barbara County civil court documents reveal a medical malpractice case and another case of negligence, both of which Diaz settled.
But local sources claim there is more to the story than the state licensing board will reveal.
Pharmacies have the ability to refuse to fill a doctor’s prescriptions if they believe he or she is overprescribing, and some local pharmacies reportedly will not fill prescriptions written by Diaz.
One source, who contacted Noozhawk after the Prescription for Abuse series began, has an adult child who the source said received OxyContin and morphine from Diaz without a legitimate medical condition to warrant the prescriptions.
“Huge amounts” were prescribed to the family member, the source said, and at least 10 emergency room visits have resulted because of overdoses. The source contacted the state medical board, local hospitals and pharmacies, and even federal authorities, but said no apparent action was taken.
“He’s ruined our lives,” the source said of the physician. “Somebody’s gotta stop this.”
Dr. Sherif Al-Asyouty, an addiction specialist and member of the Medical Board of California, said he hopes this arrest doesn’t affect the image of physicians. He said the medical board is likely to open its own investigation following Diaz’s arrest, as it does for any accused doctor.
Emergency room physicians have told Noozhawk that putting Diaz out of business would literally save lives. While Diaz works with a Spanish-speaking community that is underserved locally, they said his prescribing habits are dangerous.
“He serves a large underserved population, his office does, and that will be a loss,” one doctor said Wednesday. “However, there was also a large group of patients who took advantage of his prescribing practices to become and remain addicted to opiate pain medications, and that was a tremendous disservice to the community.”