State medical boards have disciplined two doctors who improperly recommended medical marijuana to hundreds of patients.
State officials filed complaints in August against eight physicians who had recommended nearly half of the 10,000 Arizonans certified to use medical marijuana, saying they failed to check patients' prescription-drug histories as required. The disciplinary actions against the two doctors were a result of the complaints by the state Department of Health Services.
State rules regulating the voter-approved medical-marijuana law require people to obtain a written recommendation from a licensed physician.
The doctor must perform a physical exam, review a year's worth of medical records, talk about the risks and benefits of the drug, and review a state database that tracks prescription-drug use.
In January, the Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board suspended Dr. Christine Strong, a licensed naturopathic physician, for failing to physically examine eight patients before certifying they qualified for the marijuana, according to a consent agreement between the regulatory board and Strong obtained byThe Arizona Republic.
Strong also failed to maintain adequate medical records for the eight patients because the files did not contain sufficient information to support a diagnosis that would qualify the patients for medical marijuana. Strong certified four patients based on severe and chronic pain, but medical records did not support that diagnosis, and the records didn't indicate the patients were taking any pain medication, which should have caused the doctor "to question the validity of the patients' complaints," the Jan. 19 agreement said.
The board determined Strong acted unprofessionally and suspended her license for 30 days. She must serve the suspension by Sept. 4, pay a $1,000 civil penalty and complete 24 hours of continuing medical education focused on pain management and physical examination and diagnosis.
Strong did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Craig Runbeck, executive director of the naturopathic board, said the panel is still considering four other discipline cases tied to medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Medical Board issued a letter of reprimand and consent to Dr. James W. Eisenberg for issuing 483 medical-marijuana certifications before checking prescription-drug histories, records state.
Eisenberg conceded he falsely attested on certification forms that he had reviewed patient profiles on the controlled-substances database.
Eisenberg did not respond to a call for comment.
Lisa Wynn, executive director of the Arizona Medical Board, said the doctor's reprimand does not affect his ability to practice medicine. She said the board is still reviewing the actions of two doctors linked to the certification of medical marijuana.
Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University who served as the senior drug-policy adviser in President Barack Obama's administration.
He said enforcement of marijuana-related disciplinary actions against doctors is spotty at best because criteria for recommending medical marijuana are so "loosey-goosey."
In California, for example, virtually anyone can qualify for medical marijuana, he said, so it can be tough proving disciplinary cases against doctors.
"Around the country, very, very few doctors have gotten in trouble," Humphreys said. "And it's pretty hard to get into trouble as a doctor, because the standards for recommending it are just so low."