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12 of 13 doctors in pill-mill bust have clear state licenses

Of the 13 physicians indicted in a massive federal pill-mill bust this week, 12 are still listed on the Department of Health website as having "clear/active" licenses with no pending complaints.

The lone physician from the list who has a pending case is Vernon Atreidis, M.D., of Fort Lauderdale. He is under emergency suspension, according to the consumer look-up site.

This revives a question that consumer groups have frequently asked regarding Florida's medical discipline laws and processes: Why do so many doctors escape authorities' attention for so long?

The current Surgeon General, Frank Farmer, has sped up the emergency-suspension process for physicians who are dangers to the public since he took office in April. But the clear records of most of the indicted doctors suggests he has a long way to go.

According to the Justice Department list, 13 physicians were among the 32 persons named in a federal indictment that ended a three-year investigation of Florida pain clinics.

In the release, John Gillies, special agent in charge for FBI Miami, called the clinic network "the nation's largest criminal organization involved in the illegal distribution of pain killers."

US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the doctors were engaging in organized crime. "Like all drug dealers, they focused solely on making money and staying out of jail… You cannot deal drugs hiding behind a medical license.’’

But in Florida, the come-uppance can take many years. And lives.

Dr. Frank Farmer, Florida's Surgeon General, told Health News Florida today that he doesn't know whether federal agencies notified DOH's Medical Quality Assurance unit of its investigation, which lasted three years.

"Sometimes law enforcement agencies hold information close to their vests until arrests are made," he said.

However, this information wasn't held all that close.

As Health News Florida reported in May, the Drug Enforcement Administration staged a press conference in February at which it released the names of 32 Florida physicians whose DEA licenses to prescribe narcotics had been revoked.

Five of the physicians named on that press release in February were among those indicted this week, and they all still have "clear/active" DOH licenses with no pending disciplinary complaints.

The Justice Department press release for the February event stated that Florida Department of Health was one of the agencies participating in the investigation, called Operation Pill Nation.

Farmer said today that DOH will review the cases of the dozen physicians who were indicted but have no pending DOH complaints to see what action is needed.

According to the federal indictment, the owners of the four-clinic network that supplied more than 20 million oxycodone pills worth $40 million were Christopher and Jeffrey George, twin sons of a wealthy South Florida developer.

The physicians named in the indictment were:

--Jacobo Dreszer, 70, and his son Roni, 36, both of Sunny Isles Beach. Both M.D.s were on the DEA list released in February as having had their DEA narcotics-prescribing privileges revoked. The Miami Herald reported that both Dreszers were accused of prescribing narcotics to large numbers of out-of-state patients.

--Cynthia Cadet, M.D., 41, who was also on the DEA's February list and, like the Dreszers, worked at American Pain Clinic in West Palm. The indictment says Cadet lied to pharmaceutical wholesalers to get a larger supply of pills and also prescribed anabolic steroids.

She has reportedly been charged by Palm Beach County prosecutors with first-degree murder in the overdose death of a 24-year-old Kentucky patient who died within hours of filling his painkiller prescription.

The Herald reported that Cadet's attorney Richard Merlino said his client is innocent and has declined plea-bargain offers. Cadet remained in federal custody, the Herald reported, although several other doctos were released on bail.

--Vernon Atreidis, M.D., 46, of Fort Lauderdale. Atreidis is the only one of the 13 physicians named in the indictment who has an emergency-suspension order from DOH.

--Daniel Hauser, M.D., 61, of Hollywood.

Hauser has two old cases of discipline by the Board of Medicine, both resolved; his license is "clear/active."

One involved allegations of substandard treatment for an emergency-room patient at Hollywood Memorial in 2001. Hauser was fined $20,000 and ordered to have his practice reviewed by a quality-assurance team. Details of the other case, which was filed in 1999 and resulted in a fine and reprimand, were not immediately available.

--Robert Meek, D.O., 36, of Davie.

--Beau Boshers, M.D., 47, of Palm Beach Gardens, and Michael Aruta, M.D., 48, of Boca Raton. Both were named in the DEA press conference in February.

--Patrick Graham, M.D., 64, of Boca Raton. Graham was once disciplined by the Board of Medicine in a 2002 case involving breast implants that deflated later because he allegedly used the wrong kind. He was fined $10,000 and given a "Letter of Concern," but after satisfying all obligations his license was returned to "clear/active" status.

--Augusto Lizarazo, M.D., 70 of Jupiter.

--Christine Chico-Blume, DO, 59, of Jupiter.

--Irwin Beretsky, MD, 76, of Boca Raton.


Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.