“It is so very important for law enforcement to identify and investigate medical professionals who may be prescribing highly addictive pain medications to patients without proper examinations and when red flags have been raised. The addiction to these powerful painkillers is a problem in our society that leads to many public safety issues, not to mention heartbreak to family members.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SAN JOSE – On June 23, 2023, the Unites States Attorney’s Office announce that a federal jury convicted physician Donald Siao of 12 counts of distributing the controlled substances Oxycodone and Hydrocodone outside of the usual course of his professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.
Siao, 58, is a licensed physician who practices family medicine in San Jose. At trial, evidence demonstrated that after identifying Siao in a separate prescription fraud investigation, investigators reviewed a California state database and discovered Siao had written 8,201 prescriptions for controlled substance medications in just the one-year period from May 2016 to May 2017. An investigation followed and resulted in Siao prescribing Oxycodone and Hydrocodone in increasing quantities over 17 visits by four separate undercover law enforcement agents posing as patients. The undercover agents received prescriptions from Siao despite complaining of only vague pain or discomfort, requesting specific opioids by name, and admitting to sharing the pills with friends and coworkers.
Evidence at trial further established that Siao prescribed dangerous opioids to his patients E.J. and A.J., a mother and son, notwithstanding obvious red flags. Siao continued to prescribe opioids to the mother E.J. after she repeatedly claimed that her pills had been lost or stolen, despite Siao receiving an alert from E.J.’s insurer regarding her opioid prescriptions and despite Siao being advised that E.J. was jailed for selling pills, which was documented in Siao’s medical file for E.J. Similarly, Siao prescribed opioids to the son A.J. after he overdosed twice. Siao continued to prescribe opioids to A.J. after A.J. repeatedly claimed the opioids were lost or stolen and even after he had been flagged by his prior medical provider for drug-seeking behavior, after his mother reported he had stolen her medications, and after A.J.’s mother E.J. fatally overdosed on opioids. These facts were all documented in Siao’s medical file for A.J.
Trial evidence also demonstrated that Siao refused to heed warnings that his prescriptions were dangerous. Evidence showed Siao was aware that DEA closely scrutinized opioid prescriptions and pointed out to one of the undercover officers posing as a patient that a nationwide epidemic was underway in which large numbers of people were addicted to and dying from opioids. Siao nevertheless continued to prescribe opioids to the agents upon their request and with little to no physical examination, sometimes after visits lasting only a few minutes. Law enforcement agents interviewed Siao in November 2018 about his prescribing practices, and Siao admitted he was aware of the California Medical Board’s Guidelines for Prescribing Controlled Substances for Pain. During trial, Siao also admitted that he had been taught about the dangers of addiction and how to identify drug-seeking patients.
The jury convicted Siao of 12counts of distributing opioids outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Of the 12 counts, four related to the undercover agents and eight related to E.J. and A.J.
Siao’s sentencing is scheduled for November 7, 2023. Each of the 12 counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The United States is also seeking forfeiture of Siao’s medical license. The court may also order additional fines, restitution, and supervision upon release from prison as part of any sentence. However, any sentence will be imposed by a court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The prosecution is the result of an investigation by DEA, HHS-OIG, and the California Department of Justice Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.