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Doctor faces second-degree murder, elder abuse charges for opioid deaths

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A Santa Rosa, Calif. doctor was arrested on second-degree murder and elder abuse charges related to four patient opioid overdose deaths.

The California Attorney General’s Office has charged a Santa Rosa doctor with second-degree murder for allegedly prescribing dangerously high levels of addictive opioids and narcotics to four of his patients in 2016 and 2017.

Dr. Thomas Keller, 72, also is charged with elder abuse between 2014 and 2015 causing the death of one patient, issuing prescriptions without legitimate medical purpose to four patients between 2013 and 2018, and nine enhancements alleging he engaged in suspicious opioid prescribing practices. Keller was arrested Monday and arraigned Wednesday in Sonoma County Superior Court. He is scheduled for a bail hearing Tuesday and is being held under no bail in the Sonoma County Jail.

The complaint alleges Keller over-prescribed and consistently and drastically increased opioid prescriptions of pain medications including Vicodin, oxycodone, OxyContin, Percoset and morphine at levels well outside accepted medical practice.

Keller allegedly also prescribed Soma, a muscle relaxant, and benzodiazepines that cause a dangerous drug interaction with opioids. The maximum doses of the drugs were in quantities upwards of 180-300 pills per prescription, and Keller allegedly ignored warnings from pharmacies and insurance companies, his own observations of his patients and knowledge of his patients’ overdose deaths, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse investigated the case.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement:

“The opioid epidemic is destroying our communities and taking our loved ones.”

Becerra said:

“The California Department of Justice will continue to prosecute fairly and diligently all those who are alleged to have abused our healthcare system and over-prescribe drugs at the expense of their patients.”

Keller’s attorney John Cox did not respond to messages for comment Thursday morning.

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