Two female patients taken to a hospital emergency room indicated they were among numerous people who used sex to pay for narcotics from suspect Julio Gabriel Diaz, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
Some patients diverted the pills to the black market or suffered fatal overdoses, authorities said, noting that a man who died in November was prescribed 2,087 pills in the six weeks before he died.
Diaz, 63, is accused of supplying OxyContin, Vicodin and Norco and other drugs to addicts with no legitimate need for the powerful narcotics. He was arrested at his Goleta home on Wednesday by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Santa Barbara police.
Diaz, who operates the Family Medical Clinic in Santa Barbara, is scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Santa Ana later Thursday. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Court documents say a dozen deaths have been linked to Diaz _ 11 overdoses and a patient who died of natural causes with drug abuse as a contributing factor.
“They believe I was giving too much medication,” Diaz told a reporter after his arrest and raid at his Santa Barbara office.
He initially told the Times he was aware of only one fatal overdose within his practice. After questioning by reporters, he acknowledged multiple deaths and said he shared blame in some of them.
“I do feel responsible,” Diaz told the Times. “I was the one providing the medications and perhaps there were some hints there that I should have known they were going to overdose.”
Diaz said that even in some cases in which he suspected a patient was abusing drugs, he would continue prescribing so that he could manage what they were taking.
“If you don’t give them the medications, they are going to go to the street,” he said. “That has become an issue of: What is the worse of two evils?”
Diaz has not been charged in connection with the deaths, which remain under investigation. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.
“The illegal sale and abuse of prescription narcotics is a growing problem that feeds addictions and leads to other criminal conduct,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement. “These doctors are drug dealers and they will face stiff penalties in federal court.”
Doctors, nurses and others at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital wrote to the Medical Board of California to complain about Diaz, according to the affidavit.
One letter said Diaz “is often described as a ‘doctor you can get anything from’ by patients.”
A Cottage Hospital psychiatric therapist told investigators that “people referred to Diaz as the ‘Candy Man’ and that people drove from out of town to see him ‘because they knew he was the man to go to for drugs.”‘
Dr. Chris Lambert, who until recently was senior partner of the emergency medical group at Cottage Hospital, told the Times he and colleagues watched in frustration for years as Diaz patients showed up in his emergency room.
“How many deceased patients and bereaved relatives will it take before somebody says no more?” Lambert asked. “There is an underserved population that Dr. Diaz was serving. But, unfortunately, his prescribing practices far outweighed the benefit.”
A study by an insurance company documented nearly $1 million in claims for prescriptions written by Diaz over a three-year period, the affidavit said.