State pulls Cape Cod doctor's license
Painkiller practices called 'serious threat'
Dr. Michael R. Brown was arraigned Tuesday in Barnstable on 13 counts of illegal drug possession with intent to distribute. (Cape Cod Times Photo / Steve Heaslip)
A Cape Cod doctor who prescribed nearly one-third of the painkiller OxyContin in all of Massachusetts in 2004 lost his license to practice medicine yesterday as state regulators declared him ''an immediate and serious threat to the public safety and welfare."
Dr. Michael R. Brown, who practices in Sandwich, had been the target of a protest earlier this month from parents calling him ''Dr. Feel Good" and accusing him of overprescribing the addictive drug to children.
The emergency license suspension by the Board of Registration in Medicine capped a week of deepening troubles for Brown, 52, who was arrested by Sandwich police on Monday night on charges of buying back painkillers he had prescribed to a patient. On Tuesday, Brown pleaded not guilty in Barnstable District Court to 13 counts of illegal drug possession with intent to distribute.
At yesterday's hearing in Boston, officials said, the board investigator presented evidence that Brown was the single leading prescriber of OxyContin in the entire state, with his prescriptions accounting for 288,859 of the 922,985 OxyContin tablets sold through pharmacies in 2004. In an affidavit presented at the closed-door disciplinary hearing, the investigator said almost all of Brown's prescriptions were 40-milligram tablets, which are known for having a higher value for illegal resale.
''Clearly, this pattern is such an extreme deviation from his peers that it raised grave concerns for the board," said Nancy Achin Audesse, executive director of the Board of Registration. She said Brown had been required in 2001 to take courses on pain management in hopes of reducing the number of painkiller prescriptions, but Brown's pattern continued. ''It appears to be willful," she said.
Brown's attorney at yesterday's hearing could not be reached, but the lawyer representing him in the criminal case, Russell Redgate, said Brown has been a victim of ''ignorant people" whose views have been amplified by media coverage of their protest in front of Brown's office. Brown is also facing an assault charge after a confrontation earlier this month with Fox25 News reporter Mike Beaudet, who had described him on air as the state's top prescriber of OxyContin.
Redgate said laypeople cannot judge how much OxyContin is appropriate for a patient, and he called the assault charge against his client ''bull."
Police said that when they arrested Brown, they found his vehicle littered with prescription drugs that he planned to resell. But Redgate said the drug charges against his client appeared to be based on small amounts of drugs that doctors routinely carry and dispense ''without explanation." However, he said, ''There are so many allegations, I don't want to go out on a limb and say there's nothing to any of them."
Public officials and antidrug activists, however, applauded Brown's suspension, saying he had become a major source of OxyContin for a large region. Sandwich police said yesterday that they had been investigating drug allegations against Brown for years before a patient became an informant and cooperated with police to videotape a drug transaction.
''Some lives just may have been saved today," said Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn to Cope, a Raynham-based support group for parents of drug-addicted children that organized the protest at Brown's office. Peterson said she called for the protest after numerous parents said Brown had prescribed OxyContin to their children.
''We have a situation here where a physician used the power of his medical license to moonlight as a drug dealer," said Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, cochairman of the Legislature's OxyContin Commission. ''The Board of Registration in Medicine has done everyone in Massachusetts a great service today. It's now in the hands of the courts to make sure he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Documents provided by the Board of Registration show that Brown was a stunningly large-scale source of painkillers for a doctor practicing by himself on Cape Cod. But the documents also paint a picture of a life in disarray.
The informant to the Sandwich police told officers that Brown would routinely prescribe the painkiller Hydrocodone for him, then buy the pills back for himself. According to board documents, police videotaped Brown at the informant's home on July 1, picking up 87 Hydrocodone pills in a prearranged spot. Six weeks later, when police arrested Brown, they found dozens of other prescription pills such as the painkiller Vicodin and the erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra, along with partially consumed alcoholic beverage containers ''strewn throughout the vehicle," according to the board's statement of allegations. In addition, police found $29,900 in a plastic bag on the rear seat and $31,290 in the trunk, along with patient MRIs and X-rays. They also found patient records and prescription pads on the front seat.
Board investigator Anne Vacca said in an affidavit that Brown is a large-scale provider not only of OxyContin, but also the painkiller Hydrocodone; in the last 19 months alone, he wrote 5,756 prescriptions for the painkiller. She said at least one Cape Cod pharmacist had been suspicious of Brown's habits for years because patients would be on narcotics for long periods of time with no apparent attempt to reduce the patient's dependence.
Brown's suspension will remain in effect indefinitely, but Brown can appeal the decision.
Scott Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.