South Park doctor relieved by family can no longer prescribe painkillers – Voice of San Diego

ByDonald L. Leech

Feb 2, 2022
The exterior of Dr. Tara Zandvliet’s office in South Park / Photo by Megan Wood

Rhonda and Gordon Dutson don’t necessarily believe that Dr. Tara Zandvliet is responsible for their son’s opiate addiction. But they think she’s an accomplice.

Trevor, their son and his then-girlfriend both traveled to Zandvliet for the sole purpose of obtaining opioids, the Dutsons said. And, according to the Medical Board of California, they weren’t alone.

Zandvliet – who, Voice of San Diego revealed in 2019, helped hundreds of local families avoid vaccinations for their children – over-prescribed opioids to at least four of his patients, according to the charges brought by the medical commission. In one case, she prescribed a woman 10 times the recommended daily dose of opioids for nearly six years.

As part of a new settlement agreement, she will not be able to prescribe narcotics for the next five years. She will also need to take a course on best prescribing practices and undergo a clinical skills assessment. The medical committee had had previously stripped Zandvliet of his ability to write vaccine exemptions.

“I wish she had lost her license,” Rhonda said. “She allowed drug addicts. She didn’t “do any harm”.

“I have very few patients overall on opioids, so this won’t change my practice much,” Zandvliet wrote in an email. “However, it is a devastating blow for these patients. They suffer from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, vertebral compression fractures, etc. They and their specialists are grateful to me for writing the drugs they depend on to function.

Zandvliet said family members who are concerned their loved ones are addicted to the pills should contact the prescribing doctor.

“If they knew he was addicted, why didn’t they tell me?” she wrote about the Dutsons. “Doctors are not omniscient. We rely on families to share their concerns with us… Drug addicts know how to play the game very well to obtain their medication.

The Dutsons said they didn’t learn their son was addicted to opioids until he was out of Zandvliet’s care.

Zandvliet has a small practice in South Park. She became frustrated with insurance companies and rushed visits, according to a 2012 North Park News article, so she stopped taking insurance. Patients instead pay cash and she regularly visits them for 40 minutes or more, she said.

Gordon Dutson once went with his son on a date with Zandvliet, as Voice previously reported when the charges against Zandvliet were first announced. (Voice previously used a pseudonym to identify the Dutsons because they were involved in ongoing legal proceedings over custody of their granddaughter.)

“It felt more like a drug deal than a doctor-patient encounter,” Gordon said. “Like, ‘Here’s the prescription you want, give me the money, see you next time.’ It wasn’t like, ‘How’s your knee? Are you in pain? Let’s make that leg feel better.

Zandvliet says she was working to wean Trevor off opioids.

Trevor remains addicted to opiates, his parents said. He has been in and out of jail recently and lives in his car. They have no relationship with him currently, they said, but try to follow his whereabouts and help him as much as they can.

They tried to help him directly in the past, but came to believe it only furthered his addiction, they said.

According to the medical board, Zandvliet prescribed the four patients named in the charges between 73 and 1,360 “equivalent milligrams of morphine” daily. MME is a standard measure of opioid strength.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an absolute maximum daily dose of 90 MS.

Prescribing more than the maximum dose backfires, said Dr. Kelly Bruno, pain management specialist at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, already told me.

High doses can create a “feedback loop,” Bruno said, that increases a person’s pain.

In March 2019, Voice first reported that Zandvliet had written 141 vaccine exemptions, representing nearly one-third of all exemptions for the San Diego Unified School District. She later told investigators that she probably wrote 1,000 in all. Zandvliet wrote many of the exemptions because his patients had a family history of allergies or autoimmune diseases. The American Academy of Pediatricians, as well as the vast majority of physicians, do not endorse them as legitimate grounds for exemption.

After the story was published, lawmakers passed a new law which placed additional scrutiny on physicians who write more than five vaccine waivers in a single year.

According to the medical board’s findings, a qualified doctor like Zandvliet should have been able to spot his patients’ addictions and treat them for them.

“They needed a doctor, not a drug dealer,” Rhonda said. “She is now on the radar of the authorities for painkillers as well as for exemption from vaccines. She’s going to be under a magnifying glass and that’s where she should be.