The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure has suspended the license of an emergency room doctor practicing at Harlan ARH Hospital.
Dr. Donald Ramsey, of Knoxville, Tenn., had been prescribing diet pills to nursing staff, which they were allegedly using to help them stay alert during night shifts, according to board documents.
The state began investigating after an anonymous complaint in February stating that Ramsey was prescribing twice the daily recommended dose of the appetite suppressant phentermine to hospital employees and their spouses.
The Drug Enforcement Administration also told the board in February that Ramsey did not have a Kentucky DEA registration, which meant that he was "illegally prescribing controlled substances in Kentucky."
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Several nurses and other hospital staff interviewed by the board's investigator said they had gotten prescriptions for diet pills from Ramsey, who had not examined them or created a medical chart. Some of them were not overweight.
Some of Ramsey's coworkers also said he had given them prescriptions for family members without seeing them.
A board consultant said Ramsey had prescribed 4,760 doses of phentermine and 720 doses of Alprazolam in a year's time and that his prescribing patterns posed "a clear danger to these persons and the general public."
"Damage, injury and habituation are dangers for each individual," the consultant wrote. "Diversion is a risk for the public, given the large number of both individuals and doses involved."
Ramsey told the board that he considered the nurses legitimate candidates for the drug and did not know of anyone using it to stay awake. He also said he prescribed double doses so that the prescription wouldn't have to be refilled as often and said he did not know he needed a Kentucky DEA license.
Ramsey underwent a 96-hour inpatient evaluation at a Florida recovery center in June, and the center determined that he was not able to "practice with reasonable skill and safety ... and should be treated at a residential level of care at an institution with expertise in treating health care professionals."
Ramsey told the board on July 21 that he had returned to practicing in Kentucky.
The board told him he could get a second opinion or attend a treatment facility, and when he did not, the board filed an emergency order of suspension that prohibits Ramsey from practicing in Kentucky, saying that his practice "constitutes a danger to the health, welfare and safety of his patients or the general public."
The order took effect Tuesday.