Settlement restricts practice of former pain-clinic director

Frank Li of Seattle Pain Centers allegedly over-prescribed opioids — contributing to up to 16 deaths.

OLYMPIA — A former Everett physician whose license was suspended by the state has settled with the Washington Medical Commission.

Frank Li was medical director of Seattle Pain Centers and was the subject of state and federal investigations into his clinical and business practices. The state alleged that Li over-prescribed opioids at the clinics in Everett, Seattle, Renton, Tacoma, Poulsbo, Olympia, Vancouver and Spokane, which investigators believe led to addiction, overdoses, and contributed to up to 16 deaths. His license, initially granted in 2008, has been suspended since July 2016.

The agreement details some of Li’s failings as the medical director and as a physician.

Li “defaulted to opioid-centric treatment plans at the initial patient visit” for many patients, including people on Medicaid who had been on opioids prior to a referral, the state wrote.

In one case, a 35-year-old patient with a history of cocaine overdose and mental health issues died three days after being prescribed methadone and Norco, a narcotic from the combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Vicodin is another brand name for that drug combination.

Li also hired advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants “with little to no experience or training in treating chronic noncancer pain,” the commission found.

The settlement includes several restrictions applying to Li’s practice, employment and business arrangements. He’s also required to take a college-level class and write a paper of at least 2,000 words. The paper must focus on how Li “intends to apply what he learned in his practice, with a specific emphasis on principles of addiction and alternatives to long-term oral opioid therapy,” the settlement says. After completing a required course about controlled substance prescribing within the coming 12 months, the paper must be submitted within three months and include a bibliography.

Three permanent restrictions limit Li’s ability to prescribe controlled substances for acute pain, require him to check the prescription monitoring program for all patients and prohibit him from hiring or directing anyone to prescribe opioids for his patients.

Other restrictions are in place for the next 10 years. Some of those include a prohibition on Li acting as a medical director and practicing as a pain management consulting physician, owning, operating, managing or supervising any pain management practice.

Micah Matthews, the commission’s deputy executive and legislative director, said Li can’t practice medicine for an additional 12 months. Then Li can ask the Washington Medical Commission to reinstate his license. If the suspension is lifted, Li must take an ethics course, undergo a comprehensive skills assessment and abide by those requirements. After that, Li has to make regular appearances before the commission to verify compliance with the settlement.

Li’s former clinics were included as part of the state Attorney General’s Office civil complaint filed in January. He signed and dated the agreement on March 23, followed by his attorney on March 26.

The settlement only resolves accusations against Li by the Washington Medical Commission. Any future or legal troubles, state or federal, are not addressed by the commission’s agreement.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; @benwatanabe.

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