As Baltimore struggles with skyrocketing overdose deaths linked largely to opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers, state officials suspended the medical license of a local pain doctor for allegedly over-prescribing the highly addictive medications.
According to an emergency order from the state Board of Physicians suspending the medical license of Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor, he gave "excessively high" amounts of opioid painkillers to some patients, while prescribing others both opioids and drugs to curb opioid addiction at the same time.
The order said Shaw-Taylor, trained as a surgeon specializing in urology, didn't examine some patients but left prescriptions for them at his North Baltimore practice. The order also said he prescribed opioid painkillers to patients even if they tested positive for illicit drugs and gave prescriptions to patients after another doctor practicing in the office declined to.
Up to 70 patients a day could be waiting to see the doctor, who did not keep regular hours or proper records, the order said.
Shaw-Taylor "does not follow standards for practicing pain management and is professionally incompetent in regard to his pain management practices, especially his prescribing of opioids," reads the order signed May 9 and recently made available on the board website.
Shaw-Taylor, 67, of Annapolis, did not respond to messages left on his home answering machine and emailed to him, and attempts to reach him through his pager and his office in the 4400 block of Falls Road were unsuccessful.
In April, Shaw-Taylor was charged with one count of Medicaid fraud after his office was raided and closed by federal and local law enforcement. Shaw-Taylor was arraigned and released on bail. He's scheduled to appear in court in October. A lawyer listed in court records said he no longer represented the doctor.
Todd Edwards, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the investigation continues by the agency's Tactical Diversion Squad, which includes federal agents as well as city and some county police departments and the state attorney general's office.
"Obviously the alleged over-prescribing is a concern for DEA, because it leads to very quick and acute dependence to opioids, which, if not addressed could lead the user to switch from prescribed medication to heroin/fentanyl," Edwards said in an email.
The bulk of overdose deaths in the city and state are related to heroin and fentanyl, a much stronger synthetic drug often mixed into heroin without the user's knowledge. Officials have said that many people become addicted to illicit drugs after being prescribed opioid painkillers.
There were more than 2,000 fatal overdoses last year in the state, and most were related to opioids. Baltimore City accounted for about a third of the deaths.
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore's health commissioner, called the allegations against Shaw-Taylor "troubling if true."
Doctors' offices that vastly over-prescribe opioids, sometimes called "pill mills," are uncommon, Wen said, but can be devastating.
And while she said in general shuttering rogue operations is necessary and steering those with addiction to treatment crucial, some people have legitimate pain issues and should be able to access medications. She called pain management and addiction treatment complex fields and said that those with pain should seek out properly trained doctors who can determine an appropriate course of treatment.
The board's order said Shaw-Taylor had no training in pain management. He had limited addiction treatment training, though his certifications were not current. The online records show he was first licensed in Maryland in 1981 and his license to practice medicine was set to expire in September if not renewed.
Wen was so alarmed when Shaw-Taylor's office was shuttered by law enforcement in April that she sent an alert to a network of medical providers throughout Baltimore about a possible increase in drug overdoses and withdrawals among local patients. The alert was further disseminated by state health officials.
The health department also left a message for Shaw-Taylor's patients on his office door with the health department number. Wen said there was an "uptick" in people calling a local addiction hotline as well as people calling the health department directly. They were referred "to the appropriate level of treatment," she said.
"The vast majority of doctors and prescribers are good people who want do right thing," Wen said. "Finding cases of abuse and addressing them are important. It allows the rest of us to continue to treat our patients for pain when they have legitimate need, but at the same time assist people who need help for addiction."
The Board of Physicians declined to say if Shaw-Taylor is contesting his license suspension, citing a state law that calls for privacy in the disciplinary process. State code allows for a set of hearings and appeals. The panel typically sanctions a dozen or more doctors a month out of thousands practicing in the state for a range of actions.
The board's order cited complaints against Shaw-Taylor dating to 2015 from hospital officials, a pharmacist, a patient, a patient's family member and anonymous sources, who found Shaw-Taylor's actions unprofessional or inappropriate. The public's health, safety or welfare required the emergency action, according to the order.
The order also said Shaw-Taylor lost privileges in 2015 at an unnamed area hospital after two of his urological surgical patients suffered complications and there were not proper medical records.
After that, the order said, he retained no hospital privileges and ramped up his pain management practice.