July 06, 2020 Articles

Physicians Convicted for Patient Deaths from Opioid Overdoses

Physicians whose patients die from opioid abuse may face criminal liability.

By Leonard M. Rosenberg and Nicholas M. Summo
Physicians who prescribe opioids must practice due diligence.

Physicians who prescribe opioids must practice due diligence.

pexels.com/Gustavo Fring

In December 2018, a California appellate court upheld the conviction of Dr. Hsiu-Ying Lisa Tseng on three counts of second-degree murder after three of her patients overdosed on opioids and died. In November 2019, New York’s highest court affirmed the conviction of Dr. Stan XuHi Li on two counts of second-degree manslaughter based on the overdose deaths of two of his patients.

Both of these convictions are unusual. Tseng was the first physician in the United States to be held criminally liable for murder in connection with the overdose death of a patient. Y. Tony Yang & Rebecca L. Haffajee, Murder Liability for Prescribing Opioids: A Way Forward, 91(10) Mayo Clinic Proceedings 1331 (2016). And Li was the first physician in New York to have been charged and convicted of manslaughter in the overdose death of a patient. 

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