California Takes Action Against Former USC Dean Accused of Drug Use

By Paul Gaita 09/28/17

The state medical board issued a decision that impacts Puliafito's ability to practice medicine.

Dr. Carmen Puliafito
Dr. Carmen Puliafito Photo via YouTube

Former University of Southern California (USC) medical school dean Carmen Puliafito—whose departure from the university was preceded by a Los Angeles Times investigation into allegations of illicit drug use during his tenure—has agreed to a decision by the Medical Board of California to suspend his medical license.

According to the Times, Puliafito and the state attorney general's office—acting on behalf of the medical board—agreed to the suspension, which will remain in effect while the medical board makes a decision on whether he will be allowed to practice medicine.

Puliafito, a noted ophthalmologist and a key figure in fundraising efforts for the school, was reported in the Times to have been photographed and recorded using methamphetamine and ecstasy, and was reportedly at the scene of a drug overdose. If the board decides against him, Puliafito could have his license revoked, and the agency could send any evidence of criminal behavior to prosecutors for possible charges.

As the Times noted, Puliafito resigned as dean of the Keck Medical School in March 2016, three weeks after the alleged overdose, which reportedly involved Sarah Warren, a sex worker described to the Times as a "constant companion" to Puliafito since 2015. Warren reportedly overdosed on the "date rape" drug GHB while in a hotel room with Puliafito in Pasadena in 2016. Less than a month after the incident, he submitted his resignation as dean but as the Times report noted, he continued to see new patients at campus eye clinics and represent USC at medical events. According to the Times' coverage, Puliafito reportedly continued to use drugs during this period.

When the Times ran its investigation in July 2017, USC barred Puliafito from seeing patients on school grounds, and began the process of removing him from the staff of the Keck School of Medicine. One day after the report, University President C.L. Max Nikias issued an open letter to the university community in which he said that Puliafito had been placed on leave; the story also generated a flood of statements from former and current Keck faculty and staff, which appeared to corroborate the allegations about Puliafito's drug use and behavior.

The Times referenced Julie Fellmeth, a former overseer of the medical board and staff attorney for the University of San Diego Center for Public Interest Law, who said that there is no firm date for the board to complete its investigation.

An attorney for Puliafito, Peter Osinoff, said that his client has not practiced medicine since the July 2017 story by the Times was published, and has reportedly been in treatment. However, Osinoff did not specify the nature of the treatment.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.