FRANKFORT — A Danville psychiatrist has been suspended by the state medical board for allegedly prescribing drugs that led to 12 drug overdose deaths, the complaint said.
The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure issued an emergency suspension of Dr. Melborne Williams, effective Tuesday, after an initial inquiry found that 12 patients in Clay County had overdosed after taking drugs prescribed by Williams. A criminal investigation also is under way, according to Clay County Sheriff Kevin Johnson.
The licensing board discovered that Williams was the top prescriber in Kentucky of Alprazolam, which is commonly known by the brand name Xanax, with 1.35 million doses in 12,622 prescriptions from April 1, 2011, to March 12, 2012.
James E. Smith, a Louisville lawyer who represents Williams, said his client plans to vigorously defend himself against the charges.
The 12 patients were on a cocktail of other narcotics prescribed by other doctors, and some patients used illicit drugs, Smith said.
"We are confident that once the allegations are fully analyzed that Dr. Williams will be fully vindicated," Smith said. "We are certain that his prescribing practices did not lead to the deaths of those 12 patients."
According to the complaint issued by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, the board first was tipped off about Williams' alleged over-prescribing in October 2011 by an investigator with the Office of Inspector General for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The board opened an investigation and interviewed doctors who worked with Williams at a clinic in Danville.
One of the doctors reported seeing people traveling from far away to see Williams. The doctor said he overheard a child in the waiting room asking, "Mommy, do you want me to pee in a cup again?"
CentEx, the clinic, fired Williams last summer, less than a month after he started, because there were concerns about his prescribing practices, said Dr. Brian Wood, the director of CentEx. Williams, who has practiced for 40 years, returned to private practice after the firing.
Williams also treated patients at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville in the inpatient psychiatric treatment division, said Keith Bridges, Ephraim spokesman. Williams' privileges were immediately suspended when the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board suspended Williams' license, Bridges said.
But the hospital had never had any problems with Williams and there was never any indication of wrongdoing by Williams, Bridges said.
While the licensing board was investigating, it heard more concerns from police and medical professionals.
A nurse from the Manchester Memorial Hospital called board investigators in December 2011 and said she was seeing a lot of overdose deaths from Xanax in Clay County and that the prescriptions were written by Williams.
In January 2012, Clay Sheriff Johnson and Clay County Coroner Danny Finley contacted the medical licensure board and reported that 12 patients of Williams had died in Clay County of overdoses,
Police in Clay County are conducting a criminal investigation of Williams' prescribing activity, Johnson said. He declined to speculate on the prospect of criminal charges.
"It's a complicated situation," Johnson said. "He's a doctor, and he can say, 'Well, in the name of medicine, these people needed these drugs.'"
The medical licensing board found that Williams did not document whether he pulled records from the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system — a database that tracks patients' prescriptions for controlled substances — on his patients and that he failed to note past drug history in his charts.
But Smith, Williams' attorney, said Williams did initial drug screens of all patients before prescribing Xanax. He also routinely used the KASPER system to see whether patients were using other controlled substances.
When investigators approached Williams in February 2012 about their concerns regarding his prescribing habits, Williams immediately stopped prescribing Xanax to all but a very few medically fragile patients, Smith said.
He said his client was the top prescriber of Xanax in Kentucky because Williams typically saw twice the number of patients as other psychiatrists while working from 6 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m..
Williams' suspension is indefinite until the charges are resolved, said Leanne K. Diakov, assistant general counsel for the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure
A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12. Discipline could include revocation of Williams' medical license, restrictions on the types of medications he can prescribe or a fine. Williams could be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Diakov said that Williams has been asked to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The charges could be amended after that evaluation.