California pain management doctor blamed for painkiller overdose deaths

by Jim Orr

The California State Medical Board is seeking to suspend or revoke the license of Dr. John F. Petraglia, an Anesthesiologist and Pain Management Specialist in Newport Beach. According to the Medical Board, the doctor failed to gather sufficient information about his patients’ substance-abuse histories before prescribing them multiple opioid painkillers. The board further alleges the doctor failed to investigate when urine tests showed one of his patients appeared to be taking higher doses than prescribed as well as taking a drug that had not been prescribed.

Just last year, Petraglia agreed to seven years’ probation to resolve allegations that he overprescribed drugs and failed to keep accurate records. The doctor is already barred from prescribing most serious painkillers until 2020.

The recent allegations involve the deaths of two women who saw the doctor for chronic pain. One of the patients died in 2011 from the combined effects of oxycodone, oxymorphone and alprazolam. The other patient died in 2012 from the effects of morphine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, alprazolam, hydroxyalprazolam, diazepam, nordiazepam, oxazepam and temazepam.

A civil lawsuit filed last year against Dr. Petraglia alleges the doctor’s excessive prescribing of drugs led to one man dying and another becoming permanently disabled. The case is still pending in Orange County Superior Court.

Huntington Beach doctor blamed for three patient deaths

The Medical Board of California is also seeking to suspend or revoke the license of Dr. Van H. Vu Dr. Van Vu of the California Pain Center in Fountain Valley. The board has alleged that the Orange County pain doctor caused the deaths of three patients by negligently prescribing opioid painkillers.

A 2012 investigation by the Los Angeles Times linked Vu to 17 patient deaths. The Times investigation focused on the role doctors may be playing in the rising number of deaths from powerful opioid painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

The three patients deaths that form the basis of the recent charges were all discussed in the previous report by the Times: a 22-year-old woman who had been planning her wedding, a 43-year-old mentally ill man prescribed drugs by Vu the day he was released from a hospital after an earlier overdose, and a 51-year-old single father who became addicted to painkillers after a car accident.

The epidemic of prescription painkiller deaths

Drug deaths in America now outnumber traffic fatalities. Overdoses of prescription painkillers (opioid or narcotic pain relievers) have more than tripled in the past 20 years, killing more than 15,500 people in the United States in 2009 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Prescription drugs linked to causing the most deaths include:

  • Opioids (painkiller) such Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycodone (OxyContin) and Fentanyl (Duragesic) patches;
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants used to induce sleep and treat anxiety) such as Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium); and
  • Amphetamines (central nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD and similar disorders) such as Adderal, Ridalin, and Concentra.

Since 1999 there has been a 300% increase in the prescription and sale of opioid painkillers. These drugs now account for more deaths each year than cocaine and heroine combined.

Unfortunately, sometimes doctors prescribe too many of these powerful painkillers, prescribe them in dosages that are too high, or prescribe them with other drugs that can cause dangerous drug interactions. When doctors fail to follow established protocols for prescribing these drugs, drug abuse, addiction, tolerance, or overdose may be the result. The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are committed to helping patients and their families who have been affected by doctors who irresponsibly prescribe opioid painkillers and other potentially deadly drugs to their patients.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson fights for victims of prescription drug overdoses

If you or a loved one has been the victim of overdose caused by opioid painkillers, the manufacturer of the drug—or the doctor or hospital who prescribed them—may be to blame. Many doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers to patients have little to no experience with pain management. As a result, they may prescribe drugs that are too powerful or in doses that exceed what a patient requires. Sadly, many of these physician errors lead to addictions, overdoses, or deaths that could have been prevented.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has represented numerous patients who have suffered complications from excessive painkiller prescriptions by a doctor or hospital. The lawyers at our firm have handled more cases involving the powerful fentanyl pain patch than all other law firms in the country combined.

Our partners—Michael Heygood, Eric Pearson, and myself—have each been selected by their peers as Super Lawyers in the state of Texas* for several years in a row. Our firm has also been given the highest possible rating for law firms by the nation’s leading law firm rating service, Martindale-Hubbell.

For more information about an opioid painkiller lawsuit and to find out if you qualify to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this site.


Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.

by Jim Orr

Jim Orr is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P focusing on business and personal injury litigation. Jim was selected multiple times to the Super Lawyers List and has tried 70+ cases to verdict.