A judge dismissed on Monday the felony charges against a San Luis Obispo doctor accused of running a prescription drug pill mill after prosecutors failed to arraign her in time and the statute of limitations expired.
In response to a complaint to the California Medical Board that Dr. Atsuko Rees was overprescribing narcotics to her patients, the medical board opened a joint investigation with the San Luis Obispo Police Department. In 2015, three undercover officers received narcotic prescriptions from Rees, a physician at Rees Family Medical Center in SLO. In each case, Rees failed to follow medical protocols before dispensing narcotics.
Prosecutors charged Rees in May 2018 with six felony counts of prescribing a controlled substance for a non-legitimate purpose. Rees’ arraignment was postponed four times, the last two of which occurred at the request of the district attorney’s office.
On Monday, a San Luis Obispo judge ruled the statute of limitations had passed and dismissed the charges against Rees.
The allegations against Rees arose as medical officials across the United States had been trying to determine if a small number of doctors are responsible for the majority of opioid prescriptions written without legitimate medical reasons. The few doctors implicated, many of whom are known for spending four to 10 minutes with patients before prescribing narcotics, are said to be providing substandard medical care as they rake in between $100 and $200 for each medical visit.
For $150 a month, Rees allegedly provided monthly prescriptions for patients seeking narcotics. As Rees allegedly pedaled opioid prescriptions, SLO County promoted her medical practice on its website, offering $50 discounts to patients who mentioned the county.
In 2010, CalCoastNews exclusively reported on allegations that Rees had been writing medical marijuana recommendations for almost anyone who asked, while not claiming the bulk of payments for the visits as income.
In 2012, the California Attorney General’s Office filed an accusation brought against Rees by the state Medical Board for 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, 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.
Then in May, the state Attorney General’s Office filed another accusation and a petition to revoke her probation, which could lead to Rees losing her medical license. In the latest accusation from the state, Rees was accused of gross negligence; repeated negligent acts; failure to properly maintain records; prescribing controlled substances without an adequate examination; and incompetence.
A state Department of Consumer Affairs database lists Rees’ medical license as delinquent Rees’ license renewal fee has not been paid, and she is not currently allowed to practice medicine. Rees’ license was set to expire on Sept. 30, according to the database.