Federal Drug Enforcement Administration officials are taking steps to revoke the DEA registration of Dr. Frank Li, medical director of Seattle Pain Clinics, whose license was suspended by state officials last week.
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials are taking steps to revoke a Seattle pain doctor’s ability to prescribe powerful narcotics after a crackdown on his chain of clinics last week.
The agency is seeking to pull the DEA registration of Dr. Frank D. Li, 48, who runs Seattle Pain Centers, a group of eight clinics that serve an estimated 25,000 patients across Washington, Jodie Underwood, a DEA spokeswoman, said Monday.
The move would halt Li’s ability to prescribe and dispense all controlled substances, including opiate painkillers. It comes as patients began to learn Monday that they’d need to find other sources for their drugs.
“I will be out of my medications on Wednesday,” said Kimberly Reiten, 48, of Kent, who added she’s received opiates for pain from Li’s Renton clinic for five years. “I am freaking out.”
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Li is already banned temporarily from prescribing drugs after officials with the Washington state Medical Commission on Thursday suspended his medical license amid allegations of Medicaid billing fraud and the deaths of at least 18 patients between 2010 and 2015.
But Mark Bartlett, a Seattle lawyer representing Li, said the commission’s decision was made “in error.”
“We strongly disagree with the state’s action,” Bartlett said. “We have every confidence that the decision will be reversed after a full hearing.”
Li has 20 days from the suspension to respond to the state chargesand request a hearing, which must be held within 14 days.
Commission officials also revoked the agreement that allows five physician assistants to practice under Li’s authority and said they would investigate or file complaints against more than 40 other health-care providers who have worked for Li since 2013.
Saying an investigation showed signs of “classic ‘pill mill’ behavior,” officials alleged that Li and providers who worked for him failed to follow state guidelines governing pain management.
“The records demonstrate repeat violations of the standard of care for safe opioid prescribing and medical care of patients,” the suspension order says.
Among other practices, Li and his colleagues are accused of ignoring evidence that patients were addicted or using opiates improperly. Instead, they continued to prescribe the powerful drugs.
Providers sanctioned by the DEA are asked to voluntarily surrender their registration to prescribe controlled substances. If they don’t, the DEA can use an administrative process to revoke it.
“A revocation of a DEA registration would prohibit the registrant from ordering, manufacturing, distributing, possessing, dispensing, administering, prescribing or engaging in any other controlled substance activity whatsoever,” Underwood said in an email.
A man who answered Li’s cellphone number hung up when a reporter called for comment on Monday. Bartlett said Li chose not to voluntarily give up his DEA registration because he expected the suspension of his medical license to be only temporary.
At the same time Li’s license was suspended, officials with the state agency that oversees Washington’s Medicaid program terminated Li’s core-provider agreement, which allows him to bill for clinic services. The Health Care Authority (HCA), which runs Apple Health, halted payment for clinic visits immediately.
But the agency will pay for prescriptions written by Li and his physician assistants through midnight Monday and for those written by Seattle Pain Centers providers who have intact licenses for at least 30 days, HCA spokeswoman Amy Blondin said.
Li has been licensed to practice in Washington since 2008 and since 1999 in California, where he operates a clinic in Beverly Hills. But California Medical Board officials said on Monday that they had received notification of Washington’s action.
“We take this issue very seriously and are expediting everything we can with regards to Dr. Li,” said HCA spokeswoman Cassandra Hockenson.
State health officials are bracing for possible fallout from the near-closure of the clinics in eight cities — Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Poulsbo, Vancouver, Renton, Everett and Spokane.
They’ve urged primary-care providers, pharmacists and others to assist patients who need care for legitimate pain. Patients have been urged to call their health-care providers and their insurance companies for assistance.
Dr. Nathan Schlicher, president of the Washington chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said he and his colleagues are poised to help.
“The ERs cannot stand in the shoes of the pain clinics, but we care deeply that patients have access to care,” he said.
But Reiten said she and other patients could find it difficult, if not impossible, to get drugs. Reiten said she takes hydromorphone and methadone to fight fibromyalgia, chronic back pain and foot problems, including neuropathy.
“They’re taking patients who are being responsible and following the rules and they’re screwing us, basically,” she said. “There are tens of thousands of patients like me. We don’t abuse our medication. It improves our quality of life.”