Update: The story of Dr. Stephen Stein, an oral surgeon whose possible re-use of needles over a twelve-year period has led the state health department to suggest that at least 8,000 of his patients be tested for HIV and hepatitis, has gone national. And while Stein has yet to be charged with a crime, an ongoing investigation against him on another matter -- prescription fraud -- could change that.
Detective Raquel Lopez, spokeswoman for the Denver Police Department, can't provide any details of the case right now. "The only thing we can give you is that it's an active and ongoing investigation, and it's for prescription fraud," she says.
Lynn Kimbrough, speaking for the Denver District Attorney's Office, is in a similar situation. "We don't really have a role in it at this point," she says. "What happened is that when the dental board forwarded their information to the Colorado Attorney General's Office -- I understand it was a packet of material -- one of our folks got a call from the AG's office. And our folks directed them to forward it to the Denver Police Department for investigation."
A similar packet went to "the public health folks," Kimbrough notes -- and the CDPHE subsequently issued a recommendation that all of Stein's patients between September 1999 and June 2011 be tested for HIV, as well as for heptatis B and hepatitis C.
Even if reusing needles doesn't lead to criminal charges against Stein, prescription fraud certainly could. Look no further than the case of Dr. Louis Hampers, a former pediatric PR doc who was sentenced to five years probation and fined $30,000. As our Melanie Asmar reported, Hampers allegedly used five aliases and eight fake patient names to fraudulently obtain drugs such as generic Vicodin, Valium and Ambien 654 times at pharmacies in Denver and Aurora.
Look below to see our previous coverage.
Original post, 6:36 a.m. July 13: "Your oral health is our priority," announces the bio page for Dr. Stephen Stein, DDS, on the website for his oral surgery practice. But the Colorado Department of Public Health feels Stein may not have lived up to this worthy goal.
The CDPHE is asking that patients who received IV medications from Stein over a twelve-year span to be tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
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Stein's background as shared on his site offers no indication that his work would be anything other than stellar. He started practicing in 1994, following education at such respected institutions as Arizona State University and the Iowa College of Dentistry, and listed himself as a faculty member at the University of Colorado Health Science Center and Denver Health Medical Center.
"Dr. Stein strongly believes every patient is an individual who deserves to be treated with personal courtesy and respect. He is dedicated to delivering the very best healthcare possible," the site maintains.
Not so, the CDPHE maintains. In a frequently asked questions document prepared in the Stein case, the department alleges that at Stein's practice, "needles and syringes were used repeatedly, often days at a time." The note adds, "Because there can be a small amount of blood that remains in syringes and needles after an injection through an IV line, there is a risk of spread of bloodborne viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, between patients."
This warning recalls the case of Kristen Parker, a nurse serving a thirty-year prison sentence. As our Alan Prendergast wrote, Parker "stole syringes of fentanyl, a potent painkiller used in many surgical procedures, from operating rooms and replaced them with syringes filled with saline. A former heroin junkie, Parker injected herself with fentanyl and often put the used needle back on the anesthesiologist's cart -- exposing patient after patient to hep C, a potentially liver-ravaging virus, which she'd acquired through sharing needles with other addicts. She was fired after testing positive for fentanyl, and health officials eventually linked her genotype to 35 cases of hepatitis C among Rose patients."
Thus far, no one's alleging that Stein has hepatitis, or that he's infected with the HIV virus. But that doesn't mean who saw him between September 1999 and June 2011 are out of the woods if he did indeed reuse needles. Hence the letters, which the CDPHE has reportedly sent to 8,000 individuals thus far -- and the possibility remains that more may go out in the not-too-distant future.
To put it mildly, there's no indication on Stein's website that anything's wrong, aside from the fact that it hasn't been updated in more than a year. His most recent blog entry, from April 2011, sports the benign entry "What are wisdom teeth?" That's preceded by an item about an open house at his Cherry Creek office (3737 East 1st Avenue, Suite B) the previous February and one about New Year's Resolutions, which declares, "It is that time a [sic] year when we all sit back and think about what we did last year and what we should do in the next!"
No telling at this point what Stein's reflecting on -- but it's probably not especially pleasant. Here's a 9News package on the subject, followed by the aforementioned CDPHE document.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Kristen Parker gets thirty years for hepatitis-C infections -- but her victims get life."