Dr. still practicing after writing hundreds of fake prescriptions
BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A high profile local surgeon who the DEA says wrote hundreds of fake prescriptions to support his drug addiction is still practicing. That's even though he's been accused of harming several patients and paid out three malpractice claims. But, as KOMO 4 Problem Solvers discovered, if you were a prospective patient and wanted to look into Dr. Gavin Dry, none of that would show up on a check of his license.
Dr. Dry is no stranger to TV cameras. He welcomed KOMO News into his practice for a story in 2009 about his staff tweeting details during surgeries. He called it educational. He's appeared several times as a medical expert on another station's midday program.
But when we wanted to ask him about his recent drug investigation, he wasn't interested: "No comment."
KOMO 4 peeled back the surface of Dry's high-profile plastic surgery practice to reveal a history of state medical licensing investigations, a criminal drug investigation, and three malpractice settlements. And when much of that was occurring, from at least 2007 through 2011, court documents and a federal settlement indicate Dry was a drug addict.
According to the documents, his drug of choice was Adderall. It's an amphetamine the DEA closely controls and considers at high risk for abuse. It's most commonly prescribed for people with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. But Adderall is also frequently abused by students as a study aid. (See this New York Times article from 2013.)
But by 2012, Bellevue Police were hot on Dry's tail.
"We then learned that it was in fact Mr. Dry that was issuing these fraudulent prescriptions," said Bellevue Police Officer Seth Tyler.
Detectives checked pharmacies around Dry's Bellevue home and according to police reports obtained by the Problem Solvers, the police found at least 265 fake prescriptions allegedly written by Dry, adding up to thousands of pills. "At this point what we believe is that he was using it for himself," adds Officer Tyler, "and that he had a problem with this particular drug."
In transcripts of Dry's 2012 divorce, his attorney admitted the drug use saying, "your Honor, he is not denying he used Tramadol or Adderall." According to drugs.com, "Tramadol is a narcotic-like pain reliever...used to treat moderate to severe pain." The DEA lists it as a Schedule IV controlled substance and adds that Tramadol, "is most commonly abused by narcotic addicts, chronic pain patients, and health professionals."
Court and investigative records show Dry went to rehab twice to treat his addiction. And since 2012, Dry has been successfully monitored by the Washington Physician's Health Program. Among other things, WPHP, according to its website, "offers a variety of services and programs for healthcare providers struggling with addiction." Its oversight typically includes random urinalysis tests, to ensure a doctor isn't still using.
But during the 2012 divorce hearing, Dry himself downplayed the effect the drugs had on him, saying, "Tramadol and Adderall were medications that did not impair my ability to carry out activities or impair my cognitive judgment or psychomotor skills."
'It Makes Me Very Angry'
Mark Hillier doesn't buy that. His wife, Christine, was a healthy, active mother of two daughters, who loved to travel, to volunteer for the Girl Scouts and her church, who loved life.
"She was a truly, truly great person, a good friend, my best friend in the world frankly," Mark Hillier said.
Christine went to Dry in 2009 for a tummy tuck -- a common outpatient surgery. But six days after surgery, Hillier rushed Christine to the E.R.: "She was breathing really laboredly and about five minutes into that drive she says, 'I've gone blind, I can't see a thing.' "
Eight days after surgery, Christine died from a rare surgical complication. The Hilliers had no idea that Bellevue Police and the DEA say that during this time period, Dr. Dry was using drugs he obtained by writing fake prescriptions.
"It makes me very angry," Mark Hillier said.
The Problem Solvers used public records laws to discover that the Medical Quality Assurance Commission, MQAC, has investigated Dry eight times. None so far has led to any sanctions against Dry's license. But in our review we found a 2004 complaint alleging Dry was self-prescribing Ritalin. Ritalin is another stimulant like Adderall that the DEA controls closely because it has a high potential for abuse.
The Problem Solvers asked MQAC's Policy Director Mike Farrell why the Commission closed the 2004 drug investigation without ever questioning anyone in Dry's office and without tracking down the patients for whom he was allegedly prescribing. Farrell told us that the friend and the child for whom the prescriptions were written, "were overseas at the time." When we pointed out that information came from Dr. Dry himself, the person who was under investigation, Farrell agreed but added that he wasn't certain precisely what had occurred in an investigation that occurred 10 years ago.
Million dollar settlement
If the state had questioned staff, they would have found Caren Kunda, who was Dry's medical assistant for 10 years until he let her go in late 2010.
"There was definitely something wrong," Kunda said.
She's now working in Phoenix for a different plastic surgeon but told us she clearly recalled her time with Dr. Dry. "We used to get in what we'd call third world drugs," she said.
Kunda explained that the office collected leftover drugs from patients or relatives to send overseas. The DEA says that's illegal. Kunda says Dry always claimed first dibs. "He'd go through them and I physically saw him take things out of there," she said.
Kunda's allegations are corroborated in the Bellevue investigative file where Dry's now ex-wife told officers that his office was a, "large receptacle for dead-guy drugs," and, "there were often bottles of things that came home," to her house, and when questioned, Dry would say, "they're dead-guy drugs". In the 2012 divorce transcript Dry testified his nurse temporarily stored such drugs in his office before donating them to a global health organization.
"Betrayal and abandonment." That's how attorney Todd Gardner describes Dr. Dry's treatment of two of his clients. Gardner won a million dollar settlement against Dry on behalf of Hillier and his two daughters. He also represents a woman who claims Dry left her to deal with severe surgical complications in late 2011 when he went into drug rehab. The court records indicate that after surgery with Dr. Dry, that patient was admitted twice to emergency rooms for post-surgical complications and underwent four more surgical procedures with a different doctor addressing the issue. "When you're talking about drug abuse by the people we trust the most," says Gardner, "it's a scary thing." Dry just settled that case in September -- it's his third malpractice settlement.
The Commission says it knew about the drug use allegations when they examined Christine Hillier's death although its investigation never questioned anyone about that and ruled that Dr. Dry did nothing wrong.
MQAC Policy Director Mike Farrell says in order to take actions against a doctor they must have clear and convincing evidence to act. "If we don't have it, we can't act," Farrell said. And when asked if they looked for such evidence, Farrell insisted that they do.
But because the state has always cleared Dr. Dry, when we looked up his license through the Department of Health's provider credential search, none of the eight investigations, which includes the three malpractice settlements, shows up on the state website. "I find that amazing and appalling," Hillier said. "You're putting people's lives at risk."
As for the 2012 drug case, though Dry did not admit legal fault, he did reach a civil settlement with the U.S. Attorney's Office and agreed to pay a $125,000 fine.
MQAC told KOMO TV it wasn't aware the criminal investigation had been closed with this civil settlement until we notified them. As a result MQAC has now re-opened its investigation and says it expects a ruling soon.