My Conscience Is Killing Me

A nurse says a prominent Newport Beach physician gave AIDS patients bogus drugs. The doctor says hes being blackmailed

I offered to enumerate the allegations in the complaint. But Kooshian—who described Opinion as a "very good employee"—asked me not to. Instead, he told me to contact his legal counsel, Eric E. Davis.

"They don't really have any evidence," said Davis. "It looks to me like they [Opinion and his lawyers] are just trying to blackmail somebody out of money. I don't think he has done anything wrong. Nothing is going to come of this. . . . He is not a bad doctor."

Davis also asserted that Opinion is a disgruntled former employee and—contrary to what Kooshian said—was an increasingly bad worker. "There was never a problem until Mr. Opinion's personal life got out of control, and it affected his work," said Davis. "He was doing a poor job. He wasn't even fired. He just left. I think he saw the writing on the wall."

The doctor's attorney said he is so convinced Opinion is fabricating the allegations in an "effort to take my client for a ride" that he repeatedly threatened that Kooshian might sue the Weekly for libel if it published this article.

Said Davis, "I would be very, very, very cautious if I were you."

Though Kooshian would not agree to an interview, his medical philosophy can be culled from part of his full-page advertisement in the July issue of the Orange County Blade: "We will empower you with the knowledge to make informed decisions to improve the quality of your life. We are dedicated to meeting and exceeding your health goals as well as providing a comfortable atmosphere. You know of our reputation for caring. Come and experience it for yourself."

Bryan Noble, a 42-year-old HIV-positive Long Beach resident and energetic AIDS Walk fund-raiser, scoffs at the ad. He went to Kooshian last year in hopes of curing his peripheral neuropathy—a painful, disabling side effect of prescribed AIDS drugs. He wanted to continue intravenous immunoglobulin treatments started by his previous physician. Kooshian, he said, agreed.

"I was in a lot of pain," said Noble. "It was like walking on needles, and I was having trouble working [because of] the numbness. The drug helps treat the damaged nerves in my feet."

From June to October, Noble says, Kooshian prescribed for him four treatments of immunoglobulin, which can cost more than $2,000 per treatment. But what was really injected into Noble's veins? According to Opinion, who administered Noble's shots, it wasn't the expensive drug.

"Bryan thought he was getting immunoglobulin," said Opinion. "But Dr. Kooshian ordered me to give him only saline. We didn't even have any immunoglobulin in the office. I think that happened three or four times, and Bryan never really felt any better."

Noble has not spoken to Opinion since last year, but this month he told the Weekly that he is now suspicious of his encounters with Kooshian. "I don't think I was given immunoglobulin," he said.

Immunoglobulin, which is packaged in a dehydrated form, is one of those rare drugs that must be mixed with saline before it is injected into a patient. Once it is mixed, it has a shelf life of less than 24 hours. If it is premixed and the patient doesn't show up for the appointment, the doctor loses thousands of dollars.

"My previous doctor always mixed the immunoglobulin in front of me," said Noble, who is on the board of directors of the Laguna Beach clinic and a member of the Orange County AIDS Walk steering committee. "At Kooshian's office, they never mixed it in front of me. I asked him about it, and the doctor said not to worry. He said it was premade. I should have known something was wrong then."

Recently, Noble reviewed billing statements from Kooshian and found no mention of the immunoglobulin treatments he was supposed to have received.

"I think he was running his own test program on me without my knowledge. Maybe he wanted to see if I could get better on my own," said an angry Noble, who says he is contemplating legal action against Kooshian. "When you go to a doctor, you put your life in his hands. You would hope he's not playing God."

Opinion's complaint is not Kooshian's first problem with the law. On March 27, 1991, dozens of officers with the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement raided two of his Orange County medical offices after an undercover sting operation. According to law-enforcement files, authorities confiscated various drugs related to illegal steroids production and arrested Kooshian.

The doctor was eventually charged with 14 felony counts, including prescribing drugs without a legitimate purpose and prescribing drugs to individuals who were not his patients. Prosecution records show he could have received a maximum sentence of five years and eight months in prison. But the charges were reduced to misdemeanors, and Kooshian was sentenced to three years' probation and a $20,000 fine.

Opinion was present during the raids. He says Kooshian emerged from the incident with his confidence unscathed: "He still believed he could get away with anything."

On a recent afternoon, Opinion sat in a corner booth at a Costa Mesa Denny's and sipped a Pepsi. He wore short pants, sneakers and a tank top, and he spoke again in excruciating detail about the allegations without contradicting previous interviews. Nevertheless, one key question loomed: If he believed Kooshian had been defrauding and jeopardizing patients for 11 years, why didn't he quit earlier?

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