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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dr. Van H. Vu And The Problem Of Pain Killing Narcotic Overdoses

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In a subsequent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in Januay 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  


  1. I go to Dr Vu and I strongly disagree with anyone saying he is a pain pill pusher. I take hydrocodone and have been taking it from this doctor for many years. I am an atypical patient in that I had had a generalized intense pain throughout my body since I was about 30 years of age. There were specific places were my pain was chronic and intense, my lower neck on the right side, my right arm and right hand, my upper back on the right side, an old bone bruise on my rib cage, and a little later my legs and feet both started to hurt tremendously intensely after standing or sitting more than four consecutive hours. One foot might be hot and feel a crushing pain, one foot might be cold and have sharp knife like pains (all combinations). After I finished work, these foot pains alone might keep me from sleeping for one or even two or more hours. I worked two jobs, with at least eight hours of standing, seven days a week for 17 years and my pain was the over riding issue in my entire life and still is. Lately lower back and hip pain has been a real problem for me, as I will not, expect for extreme necessity, allow myself to stand or sit for more than four hours if I can help it. I did get OxyContin from Dr Vu's assistant for a period of time. I had never heard of OxyContin before then, all I knew was it was a strong pain killer, which I found out at a later date. Dr Vu NEVER encouraged my assistant to prescribe OxyContin to me as far as I know. I never asked for that drug, I just had severe pain, I think from working and standing for all those hours and getting exercise playing such games as outdoor handball, which, I now feel, is way too rough on anyone's body parts to participate in long term. I feel my overall intense body pain and it's severity are either due to a general nerve disorder, such as fibromalagia or it may be a deep seated emotional disorder about which I still have no understanding. General intense body pain is still the one over riding issue in my life, and it has ruined my life completely.

  2. If Dr. Vu personally feels that he is overwhelmed by the difficulty of treating people's pain, he should not be in this business. Killing one people by overdosing is one too many, regardless of how many thousands he claimed he treated. It should not be overlooked that Dr. Vu has the highest number of patient deaths (17 and counting) of all doctors in the same field, and there are many thousand of doctors in this field. Further, Dr. Vu was charged with gross incompetence, negligence and corruption for inserting an expired medical device of Company X that he bought from an independent individual to surgically inserted into his patient, and having this unlicensed individual assisting him with the surgery procedure. When the investigators went to his office to investigate, he lied and later admitted that he lied about not having any medical device from company X when there was a box in his office with company X label. If he is willing to buy cheap devices and use them on his patients, he has shown that he has the ability to be careless about his overdosed patients.

    1. Until you are in REAL pain 24/7 you have NO right to make any commit! I have had two failed back surgeries and I am in pain 24/7. There is not a pain free day in my life any more and has not been for 17 years! If it was NOT for Doctor's like Dr. Vu, many of us would have given up years ago. No one has the right to tell any person in pain that they cannot take whatever medicine helps them!!!! Any person that would do that would probably leave a sick animal alone and dying.

  3. Who's to say that ever happened and Mitchelle Blair might just be fucking crazy..... Now another thing being a parent myself one thing I is that stuff like is a learned behavior so if that was the case what she should have done as a mom was make sure Stoni and Stephen weren't being molested instead of going to such out of control and psychotic lengths.

  4. One convicted with murder, one is merely on probation - why only probation?

  5. Why haven't any of these articles mentioned the article in the orange county register that said the same doctor is being investigated for buying and using stolen medical devices and putting them in patients?