Editor's note: This article contains a correction.
The Florida Board of Medicine has decided that a well-known Tampa pain specialist should have his medical license suspended indefinitely and pay a $20,000 fine for prescribing excessive pain pills.
Dr. David VanDercar, who formerly ran Tampa Pain Clinic, can either accept the suspension or demand an evidentiary hearing. If the case goes to a formal hearing, he would retain his license while the case is pending.
The Florida Board of Medicine found that Dr. VanDercar prescribed up to 390 narcotic pills each month for about two years to a patient who was an addict and who fed his habit by robbing drugstores. The doctor never established the man’s pain was real, did not properly test him for drug abuse and failed to try other ways to ease his pain, all of which are recommended for pain doctors, the board found.
The patient’s mother, Laurie Eubanks, told the board at a hearing in Deerfield Beach that she blamed the physician for hooking her son Jeremy, 25, while treating him at Tampa Pain Clinic, which VanDercar ran. Her son, a UPS driver with back pain, is now serving a 32-year sentence for robbing pharmacies.
“He indiscriminately prescribed drugs to our son with no regard for the outcome,” Eubanks said. “I cannot fathom almost 400 pills being given at one time. He became an addict. Spending money to keep my son behind bars for 32 years is not a good way to spend my money.”
VanDercar has been outspoken on pain management issues in recent years when Florida was besieged by out-of-state drug dealers and addicts flooding pain clinics to obtain large quantities of narcotic pills, especially oxycodone. The doctor promoted his clinic as an example of one that properly screens patients and regulates their intake of drugs.
He told the board 20 percent of his patients take more drugs than Eubanks received, with no problems. Eubanks’ treatment was appropriate, he said.
“I did not see any signs of addiction from him,” VanDercar said.
He said he has sold his pain clinic and withdrawn from practicing medicine in order to undergo cancer surgery. He said he does not intend to resume practicing medicine.
(Editor's note: This paragraph has been revised to correct an error in the original) The state complaint in the case said VanDercar, who saw Eubanks from 2006 to 2008, prescribed inappropriate amounts of oxycodone, valium and methadone.
State health officials and VanDercar had negotiated a deal to settle the case, with a $15,000 fine, a reprimand and a ban for life on prescribing controlled substances. Eubanks called the settlement “a slap on the wrist.”
“Dr. VanDercar will probably retire and feel no penalty. He’s being ordered to pay a fine that is minimal compared to the money he has made (at the pain clinic),” Eubanks said.
Board member Nabil El Sanadi, a Fort Lauderdale physician, persuaded the board to reject the settlement, and to suspend VanDercar until he undergoes a state review process. The fine was increased and he was banned from owning or working at a pain clinic.
VanDercar declined to comment on whether he would appeal the punishment.
VanDercar was one in a series of pain doctors who came up for disciplinary cases before the board. El Sanadi said he would be moving to reject other settlement deals as too lenient, and would ask for suspensions.
One of them was Boca Raton physician Steven Lemberg, who was suspended for six months, fined $50,000 and banned from owning or working at a pain clinic. State investigators said he had doled out hundreds of narcotic pills every month to patients he saw at Coastal Pain Management clinic.
“It’s our job to protect the public,” El Sanadi. “We need to suspend these doctors and send the message that what they are doing is not OK.”
--Bob LaMendola is a free-lance writer based in South Florida. Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Carol Gentry with questions at 813-974-8629 (desk) or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.