NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County doctor has been arrested on 12 counts of operating an unregistered pain-management clinic, and more charges could be coming because at least 16 patients with connections to him died of overdoses, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
The sheriff’s office had been investigating Malcolm Colburn Foster, 62, since 2012 and his arrest Wednesday came after investigators combed through records of 1,350 patients, most of whom were prescribed unusually high doses of pain medication, the sheriff’s office said.
Foster was booked into the Land O’ Lakes Jail and later released on bond.
“This is a person we arrested who does not deserve the title of doctor,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said at an afternoon news conference.
In investigating Foster, the sheriff’s office relied on a Florida statute that lawmakers passed in 2011 to try to regulate rogue pain clinics and the over-prescribing of pills. The law requires medical doctors who prescribe medication for pain to more than 50 percent of their patients to receive specialized training and licensing.
Foster, who operated a pain clinic on U.S. 19 in Port Richey, did not register with the Florida Department of Health or receive the training, the sheriff’s office said. The clinic closed in June 2012.
Foster has had other troubles as well, the sheriff said. At the same time the sheriff’s office was conducting its criminal investigation, the Department of Health was conducting a separate investigation into Foster’s medication practices and an allegation that he had a sexual relationship with a patient who Foster knew was a victim of prior sexual abuse, the sheriff’s office reported.
In October 2012, the Department of Health revoked Foster’s medical license for those violations, the sheriff’s office reported. He has not practiced medicine since, but the sheriff’s office continued its investigation.
One of Foster’s patients who died was Jeremy Coyle, 31, of Port Richey. Coyle, a “tremendous athlete,” had knee surgery when he lived in New York and became addicted to the pain medication he took after the surgery, said his father, Ross Coyle.
A doctor in New York had been treating him for his addiction to opiates, and when Jeremy Coyle moved to Florida and began seeing Foster those records of his addiction treatment came with him, the father said.
Instead of helping his son deal with the addiction, Foster prescribed him even more pain medicine and increased the dosage, Ross Coyle said. His son, who worked in cabinetry and also was just starting an Internet marketing company, died in 2010, three days before this 32nd birthday, Ross Coyle said.
“We feel it’s criminal,” he said. “This was a productive kid. He wasn’t a junkie.”
Another patient who died was Paul Aaron Peterson, 37, of Hudson, who began seeing Foster for pain treatment after he was diagnosed with a deterioration of cartilage in his hip, said Peterson’s mother, Deborah Roy.
“I’m glad there’s going to finally be some justice for these poor kids,” Roy said. “It won’t bring any of them back, but at least they’ll have justice.”
Roy said that under Foster’s treatment, her son began taking so much pain medication, such as Oxycodone, Xanax and morphine, that he often forgot whether he had taken his medicine. Sometimes he would fall asleep at the dining table in the middle of a meal, she said.
Peterson died on June 3, 2012.
The sheriff’s office, led by Detective Gary Souto, began investigating Foster in February 2012 after hearing complaints from doctors, pharmacists and former patients, the sheriff said. Nocco said his office has worked closely with state Attorney General Pam Bondi in trying to bring charges against the Foster.
“I hope he’s haunted by the ghosts of everyone he killed,” Nocco said.
Sgt. Bill Davis said the investigation took nearly two years because of the legal challenges of investigating a doctor. Investigators must show his actions are not just those of a bad doctor, but are criminal, Davis said.
Also, there are hurdles to seizing patient records because of confidentiality laws, Davis said.
In December 2012, the sheriff’s office obtained a warrant to search Foster’s home in Hudson, where they found patient files scattered about the rear porch and a “burn pit” where it was clear some patient records had been destroyed, Davis said.
Investigators did retrieve 1,350 patient files and began methodically reviewing them, he said, gathering evidence that eventually led to Foster’s arrest this week.