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Local physician: State’s claims of pill abuse false

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The Indiana Medical Licensing Board has suspended the license of Columbus physician Dr. Brad Strausburg, citing “a clear and immediate danger to the public health and safety.”

The Columbus doctor has agreed to the 90-day suspension of his medical license but denied allegations by the board of substance abuse that might make him a danger to his patients.

The three-month suspension went into effect Wednesday, one day after a petition was filed with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board by Michael A.

Minglin, senior deputy attorney general.

Minglin’s petition to the board said that Strausburg has been treated for drug addiction since 2000 through the Indiana State Medical Association Physician Assistance Program.

A November hair test found hydrocodone and oxycodone, according to a letter filed as an exhibit with the suspension request by Dr. Fred Frick, medical consultant with the program.

Hydrocodone is normally mixed with acetaminophen and sold as Vicodin or Lortab. Oxycodone is frequently mixed with acetaminophen and sold as Percocet. Both hydrocodone and oxycodone are narcotics and Schedule II controlled substance.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and is sold over the counter.

Frick’s letter said that Strausburg had a documented prescription for hydrocodone from a dental surgery but not for the oxycodone, which the physician denied taking.

However, in a Dec. 3 email to the Physician Assistance Program coordinator, Strausburg admitted to a relapse and to taking oxycodone left over from a previous prescription.

Strausburg told The Republic he only took a small dose of the narcotic contained in a 5-mg. tablet of Percocet.

“The drug I took had been prescribed for me,” Strausburg said. “While it was not the drug that had been scheduled for my root canal, everything was legitimate.”

In requesting the suspension, Minglin stated that Strausburg has received periodic treatments for an addiction to prescription painkillers for several years. He is required to be in the Physicians Assistance Program for the rest of his career.

Frick traced Strausburg’s struggles with addiction back to 1987 during efforts to deal with alcoholism. After completing two inpatient treatment programs that year, the former anesthesiologist reportedly maintained sobriety for 12 years before suffering a relapse in 1999.

After completing a third in-house treatment in 2000, Strausburg signed his first five-year monitoring program with the ISMA. After a 2005 relapse, Strausburg left anesthesiology and began specializing in pain management.

Frick reported that in November 2006 Strausburg sustained an injury to his finger and twice in 2007 Strausburg had oral surgery that required pain medicine. But a report found Strausburg began having narcotics prescribed to him by three separate medical personnel not on record as one of his two treating physicians. They included two co-workers, as well as Strausburg’s brother, a dentist.

Strausburg was again placed on probation in 2008. Those restrictions were lifted two years later, according to the documents filed with the suspension request.

“I know it all comes down to patient safety, but I’m not breaking any laws.” Strausburg said. “I wasn’t taking pills in an addicting fashion.”

In regard to his agreement for a 90-day suspension, Strausburg said he did not have any recourse.

“It was presented to me that you have to sign this, or I’ll take you to court,” Strausburg said. He described the recent actions against him as a “witch hunt by people on the (medical licensing) board who would like to see me out of practice.”

Strausburg said he has three major issues with his suspension:

  • Whether taking a small dose of oxycodone represents, as Minglin stated, “a clear and immediate danger to the public health and safety.”
  • Whether the drug was properly prescribed and obtained.
  • Whether taking oxycodone constitutes non-compliance and failure on Strausburg’s part to make progress in the Indiana State Medical Association’s Physicians Assistance Program.

Board Director Kristen Kelley said a hearing will be scheduled during the 90-day suspension. During that hearing, the board will consider a number of potential actions ranging from a written reprimand to a permanent license suspension.

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