Physician cleared of lawsuits tied to pain prescribing

The doctor is now working to rebuild his practice.

By Andis Robeznieks — Posted March 7, 2005

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Six years, four lawsuits and two arrests later, Frank Fisher, MD, is finally out from under the legal cloud that hovered over him since the opioid prescriptions he wrote for his patients in Anderson, Calif., attracted law enforcement's attention.

The Shasta County Superior Court in late January dismissed three wrongful-death civil lawsuits pending against him. The dismissal marked the last legal hurdle that Dr. Fisher needed to overcome to begin clearing his name and rebuilding his practice.

"There is a Chinese curse that says, 'May you live in interesting times,' " he said. "Well, the last six years for me have been very interesting."

In the late '90s, Dr. Fisher had about 3,000 patients, of which 150 received oxycodone prescriptions for pain treatment.

In 1999, Dr. Fisher was arrested on murder, fraud and drug-related conspiracy charges stemming from his pain prescribing practices. He subsequently spent five months in jail.

Of five murder charges, two were quickly dismissed and three others were reduced to manslaughter. In January 2003, the conspiracy and manslaughter charges were dismissed. He was acquitted of the fraud charge in May 2004.

Dr. Fisher's case helped spark California legislation calling for medical experts and law enforcement officials to create protocols to ensure that a "competent medical" review takes place before physicians are charged with prescribing-related offenses. The California Medical Assn. backed the measure.

Dr. Fisher has been working as a consultant and expert witness for civil, criminal and administrative cases involving prescribing-related charges. Now he plans to rebuild his medical practice.

He has a probation agreement with the Medical Board of California. In it, Dr. Fisher made no admission of wrongdoing and agreed to take a refresher course in general medicine, receive an evaluation on his fitness to practice and keep a list of any controlled substances he prescribes. He said the agreement is expected to go into effect this month.

He also said that he applied to perform critical care work at the VA Northern California Health Care System, Martinez Outpatient Clinic in Martinez, Calif. In addition, he is laying the groundwork to open a rural community health center.

Dr. Fisher said he may prescribe opioids for acute pain but doesn't plan to treat patients with chronic pain.

"It's not that I don't want to or don't think that I wouldn't be good at it," he said. "But the current regulatory climate makes it impossible to do it right for very long."

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