California Doctor Found Guilty of Murder for Overprescribing Pills

By Kelly Burch 02/10/17

Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng was found responsible for the deaths of three patients, all under 30 years old. 

Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng
Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng Photo via YouTube

A California woman has become the first doctor in the United States to be found guilty of second-degree murder for recklessly prescribing prescription pills. She was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison in connection with the deaths of three patients. 

Prosecutors say that Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 46, overprescribed pills despite knowing that authorities were aware that some of her patients had died, according to the Los Angeles Times.

According to testimony, Tseng wrote one woman’s prescriptions under her husband’s name so she could have twice as many pills, made up medical records, and referred to her patients as “druggies.” The operation was lucrative—between 2007 and 2010, the office where she and her husband worked made $5 million. 

According to a 2010 Times report, at least eight of her patients fatally overdosed from medication she prescribed to them. On Friday, February 3, she was convicted of murder for the deaths of three patients—Vu Nguyen, 28, Steven Ogle, 25, and Joey Rovero, 21. 

“In this case the doctor stole the lives of three young people in her misguided effort to get rich quick,” said District Attorney Jackie Lacey. 

Rovero would travel more than 300 miles from Arizona to obtain prescriptions from Tseng in Rowland Heights. He died after mixing alcohol with Xanax and oxycodone that he obtained from the doctor. During Tseng's sentencing, his mother April Rovero was in the courtroom. "Justice has been served," she said.

Tseng submitted a four-page letter to the judge before sentencing. “I terribly regret that even after learning of the overdoses, I did not investigate my prescribing practices to see if they played a role,” she said, adding that as a general practitioner she was never properly trained in addiction medicine or pain management. “I told myself that my patients’ conduct was beyond my control.”

However, Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli felt that Tseng was slow to take responsibility for her actions, instead blaming patients, pharmacists and other doctors. "It seems to be an attempt to put the blame on someone else," he said. "Very irresponsible.”

Tseng’s attorney, Peter Osinoff, argued that she no longer represented a danger to society because she surrendered her medical license in 2012, the same year she was charged in the case.

Osinoff said he feared that the ruling and lengthy sentence will have a negative impact on doctors and patients who need pain relief. "The doctors are scared out of their minds," he said. "The pendulum has swung so far. The people who need [pain medication] can't get it now." 

But others in the medical community said there was no concern for doctors who are following standard practices. “If you’re doing the right thing — if you’re one of the good guys, if you will — you don’t need to worry about being prosecuted for murder,” said Dr. Francis Riegler, a pain specialist. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.