Stan Xuhui Li, MD, of Hamilton, New Jersey, was a full-time anesthesiologist at a local hospital who had a sideline. On weekends, the 60-year-old Dr. Li saw patients in a pain-management clinic 80 miles away in the Queens borough of New York City.
A jury in a New York state court concluded on July 18 that Dr. Li’s sideline was a criminal medical practice, and a deadly one at that. He was found guilty of 2 counts of second-degree manslaughter for recklessly causing the overdose deaths of 2 patients, and 6 counts of recklessly endangering the lives of 6 others, 2 of whom also overdosed and died. Prosecutors said Dr. Li prescribed opioids such as oxycodone and antianxiety drugs such as alprazolam to high-risk patients while ignoring evidence of drug abuse and addiction, drug diversion, prior overdoses, and degenerating health. And he kept on prescribing to these patients despite the objections of family members and other physicians, all because of greed, according to prosecutors.
The jury also found Dr. Li guilty on 180 counts of selling prescriptions for controlled substances to 20 patients, including David Laffer, an addict who was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for shooting 4 people to death at a Medford, New York, pharmacy during a pain-pill robbery. The long list of the physician’s convictions extends to fraud charges such as grand larceny in the third degree and business-record falsification.
Dr. Li will remain behind bars until his sentencing hearing on October 20, when he faces the possibility of a long prison sentence — up to 15 years alone for each count of second-degree manslaughter.
70 to 100 Patients a Day
Dr. Li’s pain-management clinic, conducted in a basement office, had all the trappings of a pill mill. Prosecutors said Dr. Li hurriedly saw 70 to 100 patients on Saturdays and sometimes on Sundays. Drug seekers, some unruly, queued up on the sidewalk early in the morning, packed the waiting room, and took a numbered ticket to be seen. They had to pay Dr. Li in cash, with the amount dependent on how many prescriptions were written and the quantities, according to prosecutors. Some of the patients appeared intoxicated or otherwise impaired when they visited Dr. Li, although others were alert enough to fill their prescriptions at a nearby pharmacy and immediately sell their drugs on the street.
During the trial, Dr. Li’s attorney Raymond Belair said that his client had prescribed pain medications in good faith to patients who misled him about their drug use and failed to follow instructions, as reported by the New York Times. Instead of recklessly writing scripts, Dr. Li sometimes decreased dosages or discharged patients outright when they violated medication contracts they were required to sign. “That is not the hallmark of a pill pusher,” Belair was quoted as saying.
Prosecutors said that Dr. Li took these clinical precautions once he became aware of law-enforcement scrutiny, which began in 2010. Spearheading the investigation was the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for New York City. A phalanx of other agencies lent a hand — the New York City Police Department, the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the US Department of Health & Human Services, to name a few.
After last week’s verdict, Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a news release that her office devoted more than 3 years to the case “because we believed that the public needed protection from criminally reckless conduct that purported to be medical treatment but resulted in loss of life, addiction, and harm to patients.”