Crime & Justice

Doctor gets 30 years to life for over-prescribing painkillers

Dr Hsiu Ying
Dr Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng cries during her arraignment, flanked by attornies, Edward Welbourn, left, and Alan Stokke, Friday, March 16, 2012 in Los Angeles. Tseng, a California doctor, was convicted of second-degree murder in October and has been sentenced to 30 years to life in connection with the deaths of three patients.
Nick Ut/AP
Dr Hsiu Ying
April Rovero, the mother of victim Joey Rovero, speaks to reporters after Dr. Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng was convicted of second-degree murder in his death and the killings of two other patients who died of drug overdoses from pills she prescribed, in Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.
Brian Melley/AP

A doctor convicted of murder for prescribing exorbitant amounts of painkillers that left three patients dead has been sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng was sentenced Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Her second-degree murder conviction in October is rare for a doctor. It came after a dozen of her patients died.

The powerful painkillers Tseng prescribed included oxycodone, sold as Percocet and other brand names, and hydrocodone, popularly known under the brand name Vicodin.

She was only charged with three killings because other factors were involved in some of those deaths, such as drugs prescribed by other doctors and one possible suicide.

The first of her patients to die had received prescriptions from her two days earlier for oxycodone, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the muscle-relaxer Soma, prosecutors said.

Tseng, 45, was convicted of all but one of 21 drug-related counts in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

She was also charged with illegally writing prescriptions for two of the deceased patients and 16 other people, three of them undercover agents.

Tseng prescribed "crazy, outrageous amounts of medication" to patients who didn't need the pills, Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann told jurors during her trial. The doctor repeatedly ignored warning signs even after several patients died.

"Something is wrong with what you're doing if your patients are dying," Niedermann said.

Tseng's lawyer said her client naively trusted her patients. Defense lawyer Tracy Green said patients testified they were legitimately in pain and later became dependent on the drugs, hiding their addictions by seeing other doctors and picking up prescriptions from different pharmacies.

Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, and Joseph Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student from San Ramon, died of overdoses between March and December 2009.

Tseng barely kept any records on the three men until she was contacted by the Medical Board of California, prosecutors said, then fabricated documents to make it look like she had kept thorough records.

Tseng also ignored pleas from family members of patients who demanded she stop prescribing them drugs, prosecutors said.