Albuquerque Journal
Psychiatrist in Hot Water Over Drug Prescriptions
By Colleen Heild
February 08, 2011

A longtime Albuquerque psychiatrist faces disciplinary action for allegedly prescribing excessively high doses of drugs for his patients and writing prescriptions for drugs that were potentially toxic if taken together.

Those are among the allegations against Dr. Kenneth Bull in a complaint filed by the state Medical Board, which accused him of “injudicious prescribing” and failing to document the rationale for doing so in patients’ medical records.

The board filed the complaint last August, then took the rare action of suspending his license until further board order. A hearing is set for Friday.

The board alleged that Bull prescribed a combination of benzodiazepines (which include drugs such as Valium that can be used to treat anxiety) without medical justification and said he continued to prescribe the same medication to the patient without adjustment “even after noting the patient had been hospitalized for an overdose.”

A receptionist at Bull’s office referred a reporter’s questions to his Albuquerque attorney, Nancy Hollander. Hollander had no comment on the board’s allegations last week.

Bull, who has been licensed in New Mexico since 1973, has a chance to respond to the allegations at the board hearing set for Friday.

The board’s initial complaint said there was sufficient evidence, that if not rebutted or explained, would justify sanctions that could include restriction, revoking or suspending Bull’s license.

But before a hearing could be held, the board issued the suspension citing “additional complaints and additional investigations, reports and evaluations.”

The accusations are focused on the cases of five patients treated between June 2008 and last summer. None of the patients was identified by name in the board’s complaint.

In other allegations cited in the board complaint, Bull:

• Prescribed large amounts of benzodiazepines while also prescribing high doses of opiates “with reason to know the patient involved had addiction problems.”

• Overprescribed a combination of drugs “that if all taken by … would have been toxic.”

• Sent a letter to that same patient’s school indicating a particular diagnosis that wasn’t documented in the patient’s medical record.

• Prescribed benzodiazepines to a patient with a history of alcohol addiction and prescribed a combination of that drug with opiates, sedating antidepressants and barbiturates at a time when the same patient was drinking heavily.

The combination of benzodiazepines, which include Valium, Ativan and Librium, have a high potential for abuse especially when used with other depressants such as alcohol or opiates, according to the website for the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland.

“Injudicious prescribing” is the third most frequent reason why physicians and physicians assistants are disciplined by the medical board, according to a 2010 board newsletter.

Medical board records show Bull graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He has been appointed in the past as a medical expert in federal court in New Mexico to conduct psychiatric examinations of defendants.

Unusual action

The board has only issued an emergency suspension two other times since the Legislature agreed to add that authority to state law in 2008.

In one of those suspensions, a Clovis emergency room physician faced allegations last year of incapacity to practice medicine. She died several months later.

The other doctor, who specialized in internal medicine, was accused of being unable to practice medicine because of a mental illness. He didn’t contest the board’s disciplinary action and his medical license was indefinitely suspended in 2009.