California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the arrest and arraignment of Dr. Thomas Keller for the deaths of five patients. The patients’ deaths allegedly resulted from Dr. Keller’s practice of over-prescribing dangerously high levels of addictive opioids and narcotics to his patients. Dr. Keller allegedly prescribed powerful narcotics and opioids used to alleviate pain — including Vicodin, oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, and morphine — at levels well outside accepted medical practice. Dr. Keller faces multiple criminal charges related to nine patients, including charges of second-degree murder and felony elder abuse in connection with the deaths of five patients. He was arrested on August 12, 2019 in Santa Rosa and remains in custody, with further arraignment proceedings and bail review set for August 20 in Sonoma County Superior Court.
“Doctors take an oath to protect patients and not engage in behavior that can risk their health and safety,” said Attorney General Becerra. “When we see evidence of a crime and patient harm, we must act. The opioid epidemic is destroying our communities and taking our loved ones. 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.”
The complaint, filed in the Superior Court for Santa Rosa County, alleges that between October 2011 and July 2017, Keller prescribed a wide range of highly addictive opioids, and consistently and drastically increased his patients’ opioid prescriptions. It further alleges that he increased patients’ opioid dosage while prescribing medications such as Soma, a muscle relaxant, and benzodiazepines — both of which are known to cause a dangerous drug interaction when taken with opioids. Keller often prescribed at maximum dosages and in quantities upwards of 180-300 pills per prescription, resulting in total daily opiate prescription dosages that far exceeded the recommended 50 mg Morphine Equivalent Dosage standard set forth by the Centers for Disease Control. Keller is alleged to have continued his dangerous treatment despite Red Flag warnings from pharmacies and insurance companies, his own observations of his patients, and knowledge of his patients’ deaths from drug overdose.
The case stems from an investigation conducted by the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA). Through BMFEA, the Attorney General’s office works to protect Californians by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for abuse, neglect, and fraud committed against elderly and dependent adults in care facilities. BMFEA also regularly works with whistleblowers and law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute fraud perpetrated on the Medi-Cal program.
It is important to note that a criminal complaint contains charges that are only allegations against a person. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.