Monday, July 16 , 2018, 2:36 am | Fair 66º


Local News

Santa Barbara Doctor Accused of Overprescribing Due in Court for Indictment

Dr. Julio Diaz, denied bail on prescription drug distribution charges, is scheduled to appear Thursday in Santa Ana

The arrest of Santa Barbara physician Dr. Julio Diaz on federal drug charges shows the impact one prescription pad can make on a community.

Diaz, 63, of Goleta, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration on charges of distributing controlled substances. The charges accuse Diaz of acting outside the scope of professional practice and without legitimate medical purpose from his Family Care Clinic on Milpas Street.

Dr. Julio Diaz
Dr. Julio Diaz

Diaz was denied bail and is being held awaiting court proceedings. A grand indictment — the federal equivalent of a preliminary hearing — is scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

A 75-page DEA affidavit describes the cases of many of Diaz’s patients, 11 of whom died from drug-related causes. “Profound” amounts of drugs such as OxyContin, Fentanyl, Vicodin and Dilaudid were prescribed for common physical conditions such as back pain and menstrual cramps, and some patients received thousands of pills from Diaz over a period of months.

He faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

The problem of prescription drug overdoses — and deaths — stretches throughout Santa Barbara County and the country. Most access to these drugs is directly through prescriptions from doctors and from friends or family members.

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

Santa Barbara County drug- and alcohol-related deaths nearly doubled from 2005 to 2009. In that five-year period, there were 60, 46, 62, 71 and 111 deaths recorded, respectively, with the cause related to overdose or accident apparently influenced by drug or alcohol use.

The Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office rarely sees people with just one drug in their systems, and some toxicology reports show the presence of as many as 15.

Even before Diaz’s arrest, Noozhawk learned that local physicians have complained to the Medical Board of California about him for years, saying people have become addicted under his care to the point of requiring emergency medical care. Some pharmacies have “blacklisted” him for years, refusing to fill at least the narcotic prescriptions brought in by his patients.

However, the state medical board has never taken any action against Diaz, and the statewide database of controlled substance prescriptions has limited access and is used as a tool to investigate, not discover potentially dangerous patterns.

The prescription of painkillers has a lot of oversight since the drugs are commonly abused, but provide great relief to patients when appropriately administered. As the Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights states, “For some patients, pain management is the single most important treatment a physician can provide.”

Though the Intractable Pain Law gives physicians the right to prescribe controlled substances for the treatment of pain or conditions causing pain without being disciplined, it’s not a free pass. The Medical Board of California can still take action against a doctor who is negligent or prescribing drugs to a person he or she knows or reasonably believes will use the drugs for a nonmedical purpose.

While researching its Prescription for Abuse series, Noozhawk found that local oversight is more focused than the state and federal safeguards against drug diversion.

There are safe drug disposal sites at every Sheriff’s Department substation through Operation Medicine Cabinet, and health systems are putting their own patient databases and additional safeguards into place. Within the county, there is a plethora of treatment options for voluntary or court-ordered people struggling with abuse and addiction.

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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