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Doctors lose DEA licenses in pill-mill crackdown, but are still active

Two dozen Florida doctors who lost their Drug Enforcement Administration licenses as part of a federal crackdown on pain clinics still have clear Florida medical licenses.

The state Department of Health consumer web site, which patients can use to look up doctors' histories, lists them with clean records. The DEA licenses are entirely separate from state licensure actions.

At least three of the doctors are still in active practice, a Health News Florida reporter discovered: David Dreszer of Aventura, Beau Boshers of Delray Beach, and Gary Blumberg in Deerfield Beach. (Editor's note: The original version of the story carried the name of another physician, because of a DEA error).

Patients may be unaware their doctors are in trouble with federal drug authorities. “I had no idea,” Martin Freeman told a reporter who encountered him as he left the office of one of the doctors on the list.

The DEA released the doctors’ names to the media in February as part of a sweeping investigation of South Florida pain clinics called "Operation Pill Nation." The investigation, which resulted in emergency suspension of narcotics licenses for 32 doctors, is still under way, DEA spokesman David Melenkevitz said.

At least five doctors have been arrested on state or federal charges, including Zvi Perper of Delray Beach, the son of the Palm Beach County medical examiner. He was charged with 18 counts that range from drug trafficking to racketeering.

DEA, a federal agency, issues licenses that allow physicians to prescribe drugs that are controlled by the government because of their addiction risk. Doctors need only state medical licenses to practice if they don’t prescribe controlled drugs.

Dreszer and Boshers said they could not comment on the loss of their DEA licenses. Blumberg and Casanova did not return phone calls and would not see a reporter who came to their offices.

At least a dozen other practices identified in the February press conference have shut down or moved.

Melenkevitz said DEA had “huge amounts of evidence” in the form of weapons, drugs and patient records for the physicians it named at the press conference.

“There’s a lot of liability releasing the names of doctors, so if we release a doctor’s name, we have a lot of facts to back that up,” Melenkevitz said.

DOH may not have any indication of problems with the doctors because it doesn't know about the DEA suspensions, or the agency may be conducting its own investigation, said Jennifer Hirst, an agency spokeswoman. While those investigations are under way, they are not made public.

The DOH website shows that the state agency took seven doctors' licenses in emergency suspensions or forfeits. It is not clear why some doctors’ medical licenses were suspended while others were not.

Melenkevitz said the DEA focuses on enforcement, not outreach, and may not necessarily pass on its findings to the DOH.

“We’re a federal agency and they’re a state agency,” he said. “We work together but operate separately.”

Pat Castillo, of the United Way Broward County Commission on Drug Abuse, said she is “concerned about the disconnect” between the DEA and the DOH.

She'd like to find a way to fill in the gap and help patients get the most updated information on whether their doctors have been in trouble, she said.

“If their DEA licenses are taken away, certainly that’s a red flag,” Castillo said. “Having that kind of information is critical.”

--Reporter Brittany Davis, who is based in South Florida, can be reached at 954-239-8968 or Brittany.Davis@HealthNewsFlorida.org.