O.C. doctor arrested on federal narcotics charges that allege prescriptions to ‘patients’ who suffered fatal overdoses
SANTA ANA, Calif. – Special Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration this morning arrested an Orange County doctor on federal charges that allege he illegally distributed opioid and other powerful narcotics by writing prescriptions for “patients” without medical examinations and to at least five individuals who suffered overdose deaths. One man who allegedly obtained prescriptions from the doctor was involved in a car accident last month that killed a bicyclist who was a captain with the Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue Department.
Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, of Tustin, who owns Irvine Village Urgent Care, was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint that charges him with two counts of illegally distributing oxycodone. The complaint alleges that Pham issued prescriptions for the controlled substance outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.
The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint alleges that Pham was selling prescriptions to “patients” who were drug addicts and/or who were selling the drugs on the black market. A review of a state-maintained database showed that Pham issued “an extremely high amount” of prescriptions over a three-year period, and the types of drugs prescribed to certain patients would lead to “higher risks for addiction, overdose and overdose death,” according to the affidavit. Investigators learned that a CVS pharmacy in Irvine stopped accepting prescriptions from Pham more than five years ago when the doctor could not justify the number of opioid pills he was prescribing to individual patients.
During two undercover operations this past summer that are discussed in the affidavit, a DEA agent quickly and easily obtained prescriptions for narcotics, including “a triple threat,” also referred to as a “Holy Trinity, [which] is the combined use of an opioid (such as hydrocodone), a benzodiazepine (such as Valium), and carisoprodol (a muscle relaxer like Soma).” Pham allegedly steered the undercover agent to an Irvine pharmacy that filled many of his prescriptions.
The affidavit contains text messages in which “patients” seek prescriptions, sometimes asking for specific quantities of particular narcotics in specific dosages. “[A]t least 84 of those patients had their prescriptions filled on the same day or within the next two days of their text messages,” according to the affidavit. “The drugs requested include, but are not limited to, adderall, oxycodone, tramadol, suboxone, norco, soma, alprazolam, and hydrocodone bitartrate-acetaminophen.”
From 2014 through 2017, at least five people who received and filled prescriptions from Pham died of drug overdoses. The affidavit also notes that a Mission Viejo man, who is currently facing state murder charges in the November 3 death of Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue Captain Mike Kreza, told investigators “that he was on medications prescribed by Pham” and that several prescription bottles with Pham’s name were found in the defendant’s vehicle after the incident.
The affidavit also details a text message sent by Pham, who expressed concern after receiving information that the individual who fatally shot 12 people last month at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks had in his possession prescriptions for someone else, but which Pham had prescribed.
“This case clearly and tragically illustrates the dangers of drug dealers armed with prescription pads,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “This doctor is accused of needlessly flooding Southern California with huge quantities of opioids and other dangerous narcotics by writing prescriptions for drugs he knew would be diverted to the street. Prosecutors in my office, working with their law enforcement partners, will tirelessly pursue everyone involved in the trafficking of opioids as part of our persistent and ongoing efforts to stop the trail of misery that follows these dangerous drugs.”
“Today’s arrest of Dr. Pham was accomplished through the tireless work of DEA agents and federal prosecutors,” said DEA Los Angeles Associate Special Agent in Charge William D. Bodner. “This arrest should serve as a warning to any physician who utilizes their position to traffic opioids. Dr. Pham’s arrest coincides with today’s press conference announcing DEA’s commitment to opioid and overdose prevention with its community and law enforcement partners.”
The specific narcotics charge in the complaint relates to oxycodone prescriptions Pham allegedly issued to a woman that Pham never saw as a patient. The affidavit, however, describes that Pham had regularly prescribed oxycodone to the woman’s husband, including within days of the prescriptions he allegedly wrote to the woman.
The criminal complaint alleges that Pham generated large amounts of cash from the operation of Irvine Village Urgent Care by charging between $100 and $150 per office visit. Between 2013 and September 2018, Pham deposited over $5 million, mostly in cash, into bank accounts held by Pham and his wife, according to the affidavit, which notes the he also deposited approximately $1.7 million, likely derived from insurance payments, into a business bank account.
Pham is expected to make his first court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If he were to be convicted of the drug-trafficking charges alleged in the complaint, Pham would face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.
The case against Pham is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad in Orange County, the Irvine Police Department, and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brett Sagel of the Santa Ana Branch Office.