Doctor’s Role in Fatal Prescription Drug Overdose

In Orange County, California, coroner records show that accidental prescription drug overdoses are on the rise, from 130 in 2006 to 266 in 2009.  One of these fatalities was Jarrod Barber of Laguna Niguel, who overdosed at age 19 on a combination of:

  • Opana – a powerful narcotic painkiller
  • Seroquel – an anti-psychotic medication and
  • Klonopin –  (Clonazepam) an anti-anxietymedication

According to a report in The Orange County Register, Barber began to smoke excessive amounts of marijuana and abuse prescription drugs following the cancer death of a close friend.   He obtained prescriptions for Clonazepam and Seroquel from Dr. Paul D. Corona, a Laguna Niguel doctor who has built a practice by writing prescriptions for mood-stabilizing drugs.

Reckless Prescriber of Addictive Drugs

Corona, a general practitioner who now specializes in the treatment of mood disorders, is a self-described “guru” who promotes the use of mood-stabilizers for the treatment of substance abusers.  A former radio personality and author, Corona’s message is that psychotropic medications can be used to treat a wide variety of physical and mental disorders.  In an interview with The Register, Corona describes himself as “the top prescriber of psychotropic medicine around.”  Two addiction specialists who were also interviewed by the paper criticized Corona’s administration of psychotropic drugs to people who are already struggling with drug addiction.

Public documents show that Corona was hospitalized for a month of psychological observation in 2007 after Orange County Sheriff’s deputies who were called to his home and found him in a state of “psychotic breakdown.” Deputies had to use a taser to subdue Corona and later reported that he was suicidal.  In a 2008 interview with the California State Medical Board, Corona claimed to be suffering from a manic disorder and admitted to self-medicating with drug samples.  In 2009, the Medical Board placed him on 5 years probation.

Prior to his 2007 breakdown, Corona operated out of a 10,000 foot suite of offices that he shared with 3 other doctors.  Since 2008, he has been seeing about 500 patients a month from a two-room office suite.  Jarrod Barber was taken to Corona by his parents for treatment of marijuana addiction.  Besides Clonazepam and Seroquel, Corona gave Jarrod prescriptions for Pristiq and Cymbalta, which are both anti-depressants.

Seroquel and Clonazepam are sedatives that should not be taken in combination.  Besides taking these two drugs on the day of his death, Jarrod took Opana that he may have obtained from a now-deceased friend.  When asked about Jarrod’s death, Corona said that he didn’t prescribe the two drugs to be taken together.  “If they chose to do it anyway, against my advice, look what happens.”

Dr. Harry Haroutunian, physician director of the Betty Ford Clinic, calls Corona’s claim of being the top prescriber of psychotropic drugs a “dubious distinction” and questions the doctor’s belief in prescribing sedative drugs to treat addicts on an out-patient basis when the chances are good that an addict may obtain additional drugs on the street.  This appears to be exactly what happened to young Jarrod Barber, with deadly results.