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UF Doc With Addiction History On Leave

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A University of Florida psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist who has an addiction history of his own has gone on leave after running into trouble with the Florida Board of Medicine.

Dr. Harold E. Smith, who was hired in July as an assistant professor at UF Health Florida Recovery Center, requested and was granted an unpaid leave of absence over the weekend, UF Health spokeswoman Michelle Blouin said Monday.

Smith’s request followed his unsuccessful attempt on Friday to settle a complaint to the Board of Medicine in a way that would have enabled him to continue practicing. He would have accepted a reprimand and fine and taken some courses.

(Editor's note: See Letter to the Editor from Smith's attorney, Vance Dawson.)

Board members said they didn’t want to risk Smith’s continuing to see patients without an evaluation by UF Cares, a group that specializes in assessing a physician’s skills and fitness to practice. The board voted to reject the settlement, which had been drawn up by the Department of Health and Smith’s attorney.

Board members counter-offered a suspension of Smith’s license until UF Cares evaluated him and came back to the board with its report.  Smith will not accept that offer, his attorney, Vance Dawson, said Monday.

That means the Department of Health’s prosecutors will have to present witnesses and evidence against Smith before a state hearing officer. The defense in such a hearing can be time consuming and expensive, which could be a problem since Smith is on unpaid leave.

The state complaint, as well as a medical malpractice lawsuit, arose from Smith’s treatment of 51-year-old Alice Tomlinson, who died three years ago at Central Florida Behavioral Hospital in Orlando, an inpatient mental health treatment center.

Tomlinson’s death was linked to high doses of OxyContin, the Orange County Medical Examiner determined. Smith was accused of failing to check on her, in addition to the overprescribing.

Smith would not have been able to prescribe narcotics if he had not lied on his application for a Drug Enforcement Administration certificate, according to the charges. He failed to disclose that he had an on-again, off-again history of drug and alcohol abuse dating back to 1982; and that he had lost his medical license in three states, the complaint said. The DEA rescinded his certificate to prescribe controlled drugs his 2011.

Attorney Mac McLeod, who represents Tomlinson’s husband in a suit against Smith and the hospital, attended the medical board meeting to ask for a stiffer punishment than called for in the proposed DOH settlement.

McLeod said Smith had an “incredibly shocking history.”  Smith was in and out of the drug recovery program three times.

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.