As a federal case works its way through the courts against Dr. Julio Diaz, a Santa Barbara family-practice physician accused of overprescribing prescription drugs, one Solvang family has announced they intend to sue him for wrongful death.
Heidi and Robert Montgomery issued a notice to sue on July 13, alleging that Diaz contributed to the death of their son, Adam Montgomery. The 24-year-old died last November, and was being prescribed an average of 63 prescription pills a day in the six weeks before his death, according to an affidavit issued from the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this year.
Diaz was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in January and faces a federal criminal complaint of distribution of controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and without legitimate medical purpose.
In January, Diaz pleaded not guilty in federal court to 12 counts of overprescribing prescription drugs, and he is being held without bail while the case plods toward trial.
A grand jury issued an eight-page indictment against Diaz, listing 12 counts of acting outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, and knowingly and intentionally distributing controlled substances — four counts of which say he dispensed those substances to a patient younger than age 21.
If convicted, Diaz, 63, of Goleta, faces a total sentence of 300 years — 20 years for each of the seven counts of distribution, and 40 years for each of the four distribution counts to people younger than age 21.
The Montgomerys’ suit may be the first of many civil lawsuits to come forward against Diaz.
In addition to that federal case, the California Medical Board in March filed an accusation against Diaz that alleges gross negligence, among other offenses, and asks for a hearing to consider revoking his medical license. (Scroll down the page to read the full medical board accusation.)
But for many families, that action from state oversight authorities is too little, too late.
For years prior to Diaz’s arrest on Jan. 4, families had pleaded with the medical board to at least revoke his license. Even Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital officials had contacted the board, but with little response.
On Saturday, Noozhawk spoke with the Montgomerys’ attorney, Rich Collins, who said that the family “just wants a day in court and they want to hold (Dr. Diaz) and whoever else responsible.”
Collins said Montgomery was a “snapshot” of Diaz’s larger federal case. The former Santa Ynez High School athlete injured his back at work in 2008, and eventually arrived at Diaz’s office seeking pain relief.
“Diaz began an opiate treatment plan, and within two and a half years, Adam is dead,” Collins said.
The Montgomerys became worried when they began to see their son’s life spiraling out of control, and called Diaz’s office, as well as the medical board, multiple times, begging for a stop to the flow of meds, Collins said.
“The thing that struck me most about their case was to know that they tried to stop the prescription of these pain meds,” he said.
Although the federal case is set to go to trial this fall, Collins said the family has filed the intent to sue now to comply with the statute of limitations.
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— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at email@example.com.