A controversial Laguna Niguel physician who once described himself as the “guru” of prescribing mood-stabilizers to treat substance abusers has, for the second time, been placed on five years probation by the Medical Board of California.
Dr. Paul Daniel Corona, who as of Friday was also prohibited from supervising physician assistants during his probation period, was at the center of South County teen's overdose death that was later chronicled in newspaper stories, television news segments and three locally produced documentaries (Overtaken, Overtaken II and Behind the Orange Curtain).
Jarrod Barber, 19, numbed the pain from a friend's cancer death by smoking marijuana and experimenting with pills. On Jan. 8, 2010–the eve of his pal's funeral–Barber fatally overdosed on the family couch in Laguna Niguel. He had ingested a cocktail of Opana, a narcotic painkiller, Seroquel, an anti-psychotic and Clonazepam, an anti-convulsant often used to treat anxiety, Orange County coroner records show.
Jodi Barber, Jarrod's mother who would later push for the production of Behind the Orange Curtain and co-create the Overtaken films, has said Corona prescribed her son the Clonazepam and, a few months later, the Seroquel. He obtained the Opana from since-deceased friend who was a patient of Dr. Lisa Tseng, a Rowland Heights osteopath who recently settled 12 wrongful death cases and awaits trial on criminal charges involving six victims.
Corona and the Barbers were subjects of a thorough August 2014 investigative report by the Orange County Register's Tony Saavedra. From the story:
In an interview, Corona described himself as the “guru” of prescribing mood-stabilizers to treat substance abusers; a regimen he says is effective at relieving the underlying depression or anxiety often at the root of addiction. He says he rarely prescribes pain killers. An author and former radio personality, Corona's message is that psychotropic medicines are invaluable in healing the mind and, consequently, the body.
“I am the top prescriber of psychotropic medications around,” Corona said. “Ninety-five percent of my patients are very happy. The fact anyone would put me in that category (as Tseng) is laughable.”
Saavedra reports that Corona earned praise from some local physicians, but he was sued in Orange County Superior Court in 2007 for alleged negligence and wrongful death for his treatment of a woman who crashed her car while driving under the influence of prescription drugs, killing a young mother. Corona called the suit “nonsense,” but a psychiatric expert testified that the defendant had no formal training in psychology and acted outside the scope of his training as a general practitioner.
Two addiction experts interviewed by the Register also criticized Corona's wide use of psychotropic drugs to treat people already hooked on controlled substances. Dr. Harry Haroutunian, physician director at the famed Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, said to Saavedra of Corona, “If he is telling you he is the highest prescriber, that would be a dubious distinction by my measuring stick.”
On Dec. 17, 2007, Orange County sheriff's deputies were sent to Corona's Laguna Niguel home, where he was in his backyard having a “psychotic breakdown” and threatening suicide, according to the Medical Board of California. The report went on: “Respondent was acting bizarre and was very aggressive, yelling and screaming incoherently. The officers had to taser respondent several times in order to subdue him.”
Corona was hospitalized for nearly a month for psychological observation. In a 2008 interview with the Medical Board, he said he suffered an episode of hypomania three years prior and that his psychiatrist prescribed him Seroquel, the same drug Corona would prescribe to Jarrod Barber. Corona also told the board he self-medicated from his sample drugs after his psychiatrist moved away.
That was an eventful year for Corona. His book about treating mood disorders, entitled Healing the Mind and Body, was published, and he opened a new office focused on treating neuro-chemical imbalances that prevent the brain from reaching what he called the “WOW state” for “Wonder of Optimal Well-being.” But the Medical Board was concerned about Corona's own well being. “His disorder has impacted his ability to practice safely and led to his hospitalization for a psychotic breakdown,” read the state complaint that led to Corona being placed on five years probation in 2009. The term ended last year.
After Saavedra's report was published, the Register carried a rebuttal by Corona, who accused the veteran Orange County reporter of withholding positive comments about the physician from patients and colleagues. Corona also disputed the idea he was not trained adequately, called 2007 “a difficult year for me” due to the stress of losing his group practice and defended his treatment of Jarrod Barber. “There are many patients, doctors and psychologists who can attest to my successful practice and outcomes,” Corona wrote. Click here to read the whole thing.
Meanwhile, Jodi Barber told a San Diego news program that she never would have taken her son to Corona if she knew he was on probation. She and other parents of O.D. victims have complained about the difficulty of obtaining the status of physicians' medical licenses in California. That has led to blowback from those who note the information is available online, but I can confirm that it's a cumbersome process involving multiple programs to get to and download the actual complaints that detail why a medical license has been surrendered, suspended or placed on probation.
The Consumer's Union Safe Patient Project has launched a national campaign aimed at requiring doctors who are on probation to inform their patients. That would include the likes of Corona and 400 other California physicians on probation for things like sexual abuse, violence and death.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.