“We seek help from medical professionals putting our trust in their knowledge, expertise and oath to care for their patients, not harm them. This investigation included state and federal agencies who work together to identify those in the medical profession who put their patients in harm’s way by unlawfully prescribing controlled substances.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SAN FRANCISCO – On April 7, 2023 the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Thomas Keller, formerly a pain management doctor in Santa Rosa, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for distributing Schedule II and IV controlled substances outside the scope of his professional practice and without a legitimate medical need. The sentence was handed down after a jury found Keller was guilty of the crimes at trial in November 2022.
Keller, 75, was a Santa Rosa resident and a licensed physician who ran a pain management practice in Santa Rosa when he was indicted on September 27, 2018. At trial, the evidence demonstrated that Keller repeatedly prescribed the opioid oxycodone and other strong, addictive drugs to his patient, A.M., in dosages and combinations that far exceeded the usual course of professional practice and were for no legitimate medical need.
A.M. was 17-years old and struggling with mental health issues when she went to Keller seeking help. Trial evidence established that these facts made the drugs that Keller prescribed more dangerous. On December 22, 2016, Keller prescribed high dosage levels of oxycodone to A.M., along with two other controlled substances, Carisoprodol and Diazepam; the combination magnified the potential health risks for the patient.
Further, evidence showed that on January 20, 2017, Keller distributed Diazepam to A.M., and on February 16, 2017, Keller distributed Oxycodone to A.M., again knowing the distribution of both was outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. Keller also distributed Carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant often referred to as “Soma,” to A.M. on July 10, 2017. Approximately two weeks later, A.M. died of an overdose of Oxycodone and other drugs.
On November 3, 2022, a jury convicted Keller on four counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). The jury was unable to reach a verdict on six additional counts.
Court documents filed in connection with Keller’s sentencing describe the dangerousness of the drug combinations prescribed by the defendant as well as Keller’s understanding that the drug prescriptions were unsafe. For example, trial evidence established that the combination of an opioid, a benzodiazepine, and Soma together – colloquially known as “the Holy Trinity” – is an extremely dangerous combination of drugs; nevertheless, Keller prescribed this combination of drugs to A.M repeatedly for more than two years.
Further, the government argued that evidence submitted at trial – in the form of trainings that Keller had received and Keller’s own journal entries – demonstrated that Keller prescribed the drugs even though (1) he knew the dangerousness and addictiveness of opioids, (2) he knew medical professionals promulgated guidelines and recommendations that aim to decrease the amounts of opioids that clinicians prescribe, and (3) he knew that his prescriptions to A.M. were outside the normal course of medical practice.
In addition to the prison term, Keller will be placed on a three-year term of supervised release upon release from prison. Keller is ordered to surrender on or before September 8, 2023, to begin serving his prison term.
This prosecution is the result of investigations by the DEA, FBI, HHS-OIG, and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.