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State Alleges Doctors Overprescribed Drugs to Elizabeth Taylor

September 7, 1990 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Three doctors who treated Elizabeth Taylor were accused of gross negligence for giving the actress potentially fatal doses of narcotics over a 10-year period, a prosecutor said Friday.

″They are very serious charges and it is a big case when you consider the amount of narcotics involved,″ Deputy Attorney General Earl R. Plowman said.

From 1981 to 1990, the doctors wrote for Miss Taylor more than 1,000 prescriptions for 28 controlled substances, including sleeping pills, pain killers and tranquilizers, authorities said.

Asked if the narcotics could have killed her, Plowman said, ″It is possible.″

″With the kind of situation that’s been created, the patient could just as easily have killed herself,″ Plowman said, adding one of the doctors gave her injectable Demerol. ″It is a very potent medication, normally given to people only in extremely critical cases.″

Named in the complaint, filed Aug. 28, were Drs. Michael J. Roth, William F. Skinner and Michael S. Gottlieb. If substantiated, the State Medical Quality Assurance Board could revoke their licenses.

Plowman, noting it could be six months before a judge hears the case, said his office routinely files charges against doctors who overprescribe. But the case involving these three doctors were ″very serious,″ he said.

″The charges against all three physicians allege that they repeatedly prescribed or dispensed these drugs to a patient in amounts that exceed legitimate medical purpose,″ the prosecutor said.

District Attorney Ira Reiner declined in April to criminally prosecute the doctors, even though his deputy said they overprescribed narcotics for the ″demanding, famous,″ actress.

″It is clear that the prescribing practices of these physicians fell below the accepted standard of medical practice,″ Deputy District Attorney Daniel Feldstern wrote in his report.

″However,″ he continued, ″it is equally clear that these physicians, in trying to resolve the patient’s medical condition, were also attempting to deal with her addiction through alternative means of therapy and treatment, and that their conduct was lacking in the requisite criminal intent.″

The case was referred to state authorities.

The evidence concerning Miss Taylor’s treatment by the doctors from mid- 1987 to October 1988 was reviewed for Reiner’s office by Dr. David Smith.

He found that ″overprescribing was clearly documented,″ and recommended ″that some appropriate administrative action be taken.″

Gottlieb’s attorney, Harland Braun, said his client did nothing wrong

″The doctors were independently treating her for chronic back pain. She needs drugs to relieve pain,″ Braun said. ″I feel it is a misunderstanding on their part as to what they were doing.″

Plowman said the doctors knew they were treating Miss Taylor at the same time. ″That’s what make the situation worse. They were aware of what each was doing,″ the prosecutor said.

″It is alleged that this patient has had a problem with drug abuse going back 30 years,″ said Plowman. ″The patient has had real orthopedic problems, but not enough to justify this amount.″

Miss Taylor, who was still being treated by Roth, won’t discuss the complaint, said her publicist, Chen Sam. ″She has no comment. There is nothing to talk about,″ she said.

Roth is a longtime friend of Miss Taylor and has been her physician for a decade. Gottlieb is the immunologist who reported the first AIDS cases in the United States and is Roth’s former partner.

Roth’s office said he wasn’t available for comment.

Skinner is medical director of the chemical dependency center at St. John’s Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica. In a statement, Skinner defended his conduct and objected to the inquiry by the state medical board.

″I used good professional judgment treating a complex set of problems. There has never been a complaint or even a suggestion of one questioning my ability,″ he said.

In 1983, Miss Taylor acknowledged a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and pain killers prescribed for health problems. She went into treatment for alcohol and drug abuse that year at Skinner’s behest.

Earlier this year, the Academy Award-winning actress nearly died of complications from pneumonia in still another installment in a series of health problems she has suffered throughout storied personal life.

Miss Taylor, who has spent much of the summer resting at a Malibu vacation home, was ″doing fine″ on Friday, said Ms. Sam.