NEWARK – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that the State Board of Medical Examiners (“the Board”) has permanently suspended the license of a Bergen County doctor for allegedly indiscriminately prescribing highly addictive opioid painkillers to patients for years, despite “clear signs” they were misusing the drugs or diverting them for illegal purposes.
Dr. Eric Thomas, 44, who practiced internal medicine in North Arlington, allegedly prescribed large amounts of Oxycodone, OxyContin, morphine, and other controlled dangerous substances (“CDS”) without a legitimate medical purpose to seven patients he treated between January 2012 and May 2015.
According to a Verified Complaint filed by the State, Thomas routinely turned a blind eye to “red flags” of drug abuse and diversion, such as when patients obtained multiple CDS prescriptions from different prescribers, or when their urine drug screens tested positive for illegal street drugs, negative for the opioids prescribed to them, and/or indicated that patients had submitted diluted urine samples in an apparent attempt to reduce the concentration of drug or drug metabolites in the sample.
To settle the allegations Thomas agreed to permanently surrender his medical license in a retirement to be deemed a permanent suspension.
“Doctors who provide easy and indiscriminate access to highly addictive opioid pain medications to individuals who have no medical need for them are no better than street corner heroin dealers and every bit as dangerous,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We will continue to weed these unscrupulous physicians from our medical profession as we advance our battle to break the stranglehold of addiction in New Jersey.”
The allegations against Thomas are based on medical records of seven patients he treated for various pain complaints between January 2012 and May 2015.
The State alleges that Thomas routinely prescribed painkillers and other CDS to treat patients’ pain complaints without performing physical exams or conducting diagnostic tests to determine the cause of their pain. He continued to prescribe CDS to patients for years without documenting treatment plans for pain management or opioid use, and without making reasonable efforts to prescribe alternative medications or treatments to alleviate pain or decrease the dosages of the controlled substances, according to the Complaint.
Thomas also failed to diagnose, treat, or refer patients to specialists for medical issues not related to their pain, including high blood pressure, diabetes and congestive heart failure.
“Dr. Thomas’ alleged negligent conduct stretched beyond his prescribing of CDS into the very basic fundamentals of his practice of internal medicine,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “His alleged conduct, overall, demonstrates an appalling breach of professional standards and an inability to grasp the primary principles of medicine. By permanently suspending his license, the Board has taken appropriate action to protect the public from danger.”
According to the Complaint, in treating the seven patients Thomas engaged in gross negligence and professional misconduct that included:
- Prescribing Methadone without addressing the underlying addiction of “M.G.,” a 44-year-old male who admitted using 10 to 15 bags of heroin a day. Thomas failed to enter into a Controlled Substance Agreement with M.G. and failed to monitor M.G.’s drug use through the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (“PMP”). Thomas also disregarded drug urine screens that tested positive for cocaine and morphine, a medication Thomas had not prescribed to M.G.
- Continuing to prescribe large amounts of OxyContin and Oxycodone to “G.P.,” a 47-year-old female, despite the fact that her urine drug screens tested positive for heroin and cocaine, and negative for the CDS prescribed to her; and that she appeared to be submitting diluted urine samples for testing.
- Prescribing Oxycodone to 71-year-old “K.G” for more than two years to treat his knee pain before administering any diagnostic testing to determine the source of the pain; and then failing to order the appropriate orthopedic referral when an MRI of his knee showed a large effusion and extensive ligament and meniscus problems. Continuing to prescribe large quantities of Oxycodone to K.G. despite urine screens that tested positive for cocaine, and for morphine and phenobarbital, two medications not prescribed by Thomas.
- Continuing to prescribe Oxycodone, Xanax, and other CDS to “R.H.,” a 54-year-old male, despite the fact that he admitted buying pain medication off the street, and despite PMP reports that he was receiving large amounts of Oxycodone, OxyContin, Endocet, and morphine from multiple prescribers. Failing to alter R.H.’s medications despite receiving warnings from an insurance provider and a pharmacy that multiple medications R.H. was receiving posed health risks.
- Consistently ignoring signs of drug abuse and/or prescription drug diversion by “J.B.,” a 45-year-old male; instead choosing to continue prescribing large quantities of Oxycodone, Percocet and other CDS in response to his subjective complaints of pain. Failing to adequately monitor, treat, or even acknowledge J.B.’s hypertension.
- Continuously prescribing Oxycodone, Klonopin, and Tramadol to “L.K.,” a 29-year-old female to treat back and hip pain without administering any kind of diagnostic testing in order to substantiate or otherwise diagnose her complaints of pain. Increasing L.K.’s Oxycodone dosage from 120 to 180 30 mg pills in a single month despite noting there were “no new or worsening symptoms” and otherwise failing to explain a need for the increase.
- Failing to monitor and/or treat the severe hypertension of “J.W”, a 28- year-old male. Continuing to prescribe Oxycodone and MS Contin to J.W. despite clear signs he was “doctor shopping” to obtain CDS from seven concurrent prescribers, and despite the fact that his urine screens tested positive for THC, an illicit drug.
The State filed its Verified Complaint against Thomas in October 2015; five months after an inspection of his patient records led the Board to temporarily suspend his NJ CDS Registration that had allowed him to prescribe narcotics and other controlled substances in this state. In November 2015 the Board temporarily suspended Thomas’ medical license, and he has remained under temporary suspension since then.
In a Consent Order with the Board that settles the case against him, Thomas agreed to permanently surrender his NJ CDS Registration and permanently retire his license to practice medicine and surgery in this state. Under the terms of the Order Thomas agreed not to reapply for a medical license or seek a CDS registration in New Jersey in the future.
Under the Order, Thomas also must divest himself from any current and future financial interest in or benefit derived from the practice of medicine, and is precluded from managing, supervising, or overseeing the practice of medicine or the provision of healthcare in New Jersey.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Jillian Sauchelli, of the Professional Boards Prosecution Section in the Division of Law, represented the State in this matter.
Patients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed health care professional in an inappropriate manner can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
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