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Needham doctor's license is suspended

Improper prescribing of painkillers alleged

State officials ordered a Needham doctor yesterday to stop practicing medicine, charging that he provided poor care to at least 30 patients, including improperly prescribing strong painkillers to some who later died of overdoses.

In three cases, patients died within several days of their appointments, during which the physician prescribed drugs such as methadone and OxyContin.

The state Board of Registration in Medicine, which licenses physicians in Massachusetts, said Dr. Joseph Z. Zolot, 56, a specialist in nonsurgical orthopedics, "poses an immediate and serious threat to the public health, safety, or welfare," requiring immediate suspension of his license. The board ordered Zolot to surrender his wall certificate and wallet-size card.

Zolot can appeal the temporary suspension. One of his lawyers, Jeffrey Catalano, did not return a phone call to his Boston office yesterday.

A woman who identified herself as Zolot's wife, Jane , said in a telephone interview last night that her husband was not available. "He denies all the allegations and the decision of the medical board will be appealed. That's all we can say," she said.

Zolot also is under investigation by law enforcement officials. Federal and state officials armed with a search warrant raided his office May 17, seizing dozens of patient records, according to one law enforcement official.

Anthony Pettigrew, spokesman for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, one of the agencies involved, said yesterday that he could not comment on the case.

Aside from alleging that Zolot provided "substandard care," a medical board document detailing the allegations also accuses him of misconduct in the practice of medicine and malpractice.

Zolot graduated from Russia's Leningrad Pediatric Medical Institute in 1974, according to the board, and has been licensed to practice medicine in Massachusetts since 1993.

A board document briefly details poor care that Zolot allegedly provided to 30 patients between 1999 and May. Eight of those patients have died, most of them from drug overdoses, records show.

The patients range in age from their late 20s to their 60s, and saw Zolot for hand, arm, shoulder, knee, or back pain.

The board said Zolot prescribed powerful painkillers to patients who did not need them based on their diagnoses; gave excessive numbers of joint injections, also presumably for pain; conducted unnecessary tests; knew little about patient medical histories; and did not take action when patients violated agreements about how much painkillers to take.

In one case, a 48-year-old woman overdosed last July while taking cocaine and opiates, a class of strong painkillers that includes morphine, some of which Zolot prescribed.

She suffered a heart attack and brain damage. She originally came to see Zolot for chronic back pain, a diagnosis for which he should not have prescribed opiates, the board said.

During the course of her visits with him, he prescribed at least seven painkillers, including OxyContin, methadone, and Percocet.

Even after her overdose, the patient continued to see Zolot until last month.