SLO doctor charged in prescription drug mill case

Dr. Atsuko Rees and Mary Eanes

By KAREN VELIE

A San Luis Obispo doctor with a history of dispersing drugs without performing the required medical exams was charged Wednesday with six felony counts associated with running a pill mill is also facing losing her medical license.

In response to a complaint to the California Medical Board that Dr. Atsuko Rees was over prescribing narcotics to her patients, the medical board opened an investigation jointly with the San Luis Obispo Police Department. In 2015, three undercover officers were able to get narcotic prescriptions from Dr. Rees, a physician at Rees Family Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. In each case, Dr. Rees failed to follow medical protocols before dispensing narcotics.

The allegations come as medical officials across the country are asking if a small number of doctors are responsible for the majority of opioid prescription written without legitimate medical reasons. These few doctors, many known for spending four to ten minutes with patients before prescribing narcotics, are said to be providing sub-standard medical care as they rake in between $100 to $200 for each medical visit.

For $150 a month, Dr. Rees allegedly provided monthly prescriptions for patients seeking narcotics. While the county promoted Dr. Rees’ business on its website, offering $50 discounts to patients who mentioned the county, Dr. Rees was allegedly pedaling opioid prescriptions.

In 2010, CalCoastNews exclusively reported on allegations that Dr. Rees had been writing medical marijuana recommendations for almost anyone who asked, while not claiming the bulk of payments for the visits as income.

Former coworkers accused Dr. Rees of seeing as many as 60 to 70 patients on so-called “marijuana Fridays.” Both Dr. Rees and Mary Eanes, a physician’s assistant Dr. Rees continues to work with, would approve patients’ medical marijuana status. However, to comply with California law, Dr. Rees would sign off on patients as if she had seen each patient personally, former co-workers said.

In 2012, the California Attorney General’s Office filed an accusation brought against Dr. Rees by the Medical Board of California for the following seven causes of discipline: gross negligence in the care and treatment of patients, repeated acts of negligence, incompetence, creation of false medical records, employing a person to procure patients, giving rebates for patient referrals, and failure to use her name in advertising.

In 2014, Dr. Rees agreed to a stipulated settlement and disciplinary order in which she lost her license for 45 days and was placed on five years’ probation.

“It is hereby ordered that Physicians and Surgeons Certificate No. C 41745 issued to respondent Atsuko Rees M.D. is revoked,” the settlement says. “However, the revocation is stayed and respondent (Dr. Rees) is placed on probation for five years on the following terms and conditions.”

On Wednesday, the California Attorney General’s Office filed another accusation and a petition to revoke her probation which could lead to Dr. Rees losing her medical license. In the latest accusation, the state accuses Dr. Rees of gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, failure to properly maintain records, prescribing controlled substances without an adequate examination and incompetence.

Dr. Rees is not in custody, and is continuing to see patients at her office on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.

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