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Lynne Fenton, James Holmes's doctor: Her ex-husband on minor discipline made to look major

Update: Shortly after publishing the following item about Dr. Lynne Fenton, a CU psychiatrist who treated accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, we heard from Steffan Andrews, Fenton's ex-husband, and one of the people to whom she provided Claritin and other meds without keeping proper records, earning censure from a state medical board. He provides some interesting back story on a case about which much is being made in the media, even though it appears to be unrelated and very minor.

According to Andrews, who's been divorced from Fenton for about ten years but remains friendly with her, "someone in her office got a strange call from a pharmacy" circa the late 1990s. "There was a patient there trying to fill a prescription for Vicodin and nobody knew the patient. And in fairly short order, she was able to discover that it was her nurse."

At that point, Andrews continues, Fenton shared this information with the Drug Enforcement Administration, whose investigators were able to determine that the nurse had filled other prescriptions for Vicodin -- 1,200 to 1,400 of them, by his memory. But rather than stopping at busting the nurse, the DEA subsequently opened an inquiry into Fenton. Andrews's supposition about why: "The doctor gives the headlines."

What followed was a four-year investigation, after which the DEA "had nothing," in Andrews's view. "They had that Lynne hadn't opened and maintained a proper chart on me for my chronic hay fever [she gave him some Claritins before they were available over the counter], she gave me a small prescription for Ambien after a European vacation, and she had given the nurse some medicine without keeping a chart."

One other thing: "Her mother was dying of cancer, and she took four Xanaxes from a sample bottle of, I think, one hundred that she'd gotten from a drug rep -- and she gave the DEA back the other 96."

At the time the investigation was winding up, Andrews says Fenton was taking a break from practicing -- but when the DEA asked if she'd voluntarily surrender her license, she said "no." Shortly thereafter, the agency gave its information to the state medical board, which ultimately filed the 2005 document seen at the bottom of this post. "They said, 'You need to improve your charting,' she took a course, and that was it," Andrews recalls.

Now, however, Andrews believes the press is blowing this incident out of proportion. "They're making it seem like she's some crazy, drug-prescribing, out-of-control physician," he says, In truth, though, "she's a very nice, kind, compassionate person who's utterly, utterly dedicated to her patients and her work as a psychiatrist."

Page down to see our previous coverage.

Original post, 6:53 a.m. August 1: Last Friday, the defense team representing accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes filed documents revealing that he'd been under the care of Dr. Lynne Fenton, director of student mental health services at Anschutz Medical Campus. That immediately made her an investigatory target, and reporters subsequently discovered she'd been disciplined by a state board in 2005. But whether this action has any bearing on the case is very doubtful.

One of the most frequently voiced theories about the massacre involves the possibility that Holmes was on a serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, such as Zoloft, a substance that critics argue can cause psychotic breaks. Such claims remain controversial -- note that a California jury rejected a Zoloft defense in Anthony Orban's high-profile rape trial last month. But that won't stop speculation in this instance, particularly given Holmes's woozy, nodding behavior at his first court appearance last week.

Holmes seemed sleepy and dazed during his July 23 court appearance.
Holmes seemed sleepy and dazed during his July 23 court appearance.

Hence, inquiries into Fenton are legitimate -- and 7News subsequently learned that the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners had taken action against her seven years ago. Since then, other news agencies have picked up the story, with the Huffington Post's piece on the topic yesterday featuring the attention-getting headline "Dr. Lynne Fenton, Psychiatrist Of Aurora Shooting Suspect, Was Disciplined For Drug Prescriptions."

Nonetheless, the actual document, on view below, suggests that Fenton's alleged sins, which date back to the late 1990s, wouldn't be considered newsworthy under other circumstances.

When she was quizzed in relation to a tangential investigation into an individual trying to refill a Vicodin order under dubious circumstances, Fenton admitted, for example, to prescribing Claritin -- an allergy medication that's now available over the counter -- for herself and her husband.

She also revealed that she'd prescribed Lorazepam and Vicodin for an employee suffering from chronic headaches, gave another staffer four Xanax tablets she'd gotten from a medication wholesaler, and prescribed Ambien to her husband to treat insomnia, all without maintaining proper medical charts on the individuals in question.

As Fenton admits in the document, these actions were unprofessional. But her punishment, which consisted of some extra training and a promise not to prescribe medication to members of her family again, demonstrates that the board didn't consider the violations serious enough to yank her license to practice medicine or anything along those lines.

How much Fenton will be asked to divulge about Holmes is unknown at this writing. Note that his attorneys believe a package he sent to her around the time of the massacre -- one that reportedly contained a notebook featuring attack drawings and plans -- is covered by doctor-patient privilege. Whatever a judge rules, however, you can bet her decision to give her husband a couple of Claritins fifteen years ago won't come up.

Here's the aforementioned order:

Lynne Fenton Disciplinary Order

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes in court: Mentally ill or faking it?"


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