ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state Medical Board concluded in a written decision this week that an Albuquerque physician who screened an estimated 1,000 patients for medical marijuana use exhibited conduct likely to harm the public, had been dishonest and “injudiciously authorized” patients to obtain controlled substances.
The board last week suspended Dr. Nicholas Nardacci and ordered him to obtain a professional competency evaluation. The board issued a written decision on Tuesday.
Nardacci, meanwhile, told the Journal that he had been confused when he testified at a disciplinary hearing in April that he certifies 98 percent of the people who seek to use medical marijuana for debilitating illness or pain.
Nardacci said in an email that he actually “turns away” about 33 percent of the people seeking certifications. He said the board’s hearing officer backed him up.
Hearing officer John Appel remarked in a footnote in a 40-page report to the medical board that he believed Nardacci was “justifiably confused” when he testified at the April disciplinary hearing about the percentage of people he recommends for the program.
Appel wrote that he believed Nardacci was referring to how many of his certifications ultimately won final approval from officials at the state medical cannabis program.
“You make it sound like I accept anyone who walks in the door,” Nardacci said in an email to the Journal .
Nardacci has denied any wrongdoing and contended he had immunity from board action under the state’s medical marijuana law.
An expert witness for the board concluded that some patients Nardacci certified weren’t eligible for the program.
Other allegations contained in a notice of contemplated action filed by the board in February involved Nardacci’s shooting blanks from a shotgun near the relative of a former girlfriend; allegedly seeing patients while under the influence of medical marijuana (which he is approved to use); and failing to report on a medical license renewal that he had been investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2007.
The written decision by the board didn’t offer details in concluding that Nardacci violated six provisions of the state Medical Practice Act.
Those provisions, according to the decision, include using a fraudulent statement in his license renewal form; conduct likely to harm the public; “injudicious prescribing, to wit, authorizing patients to obtain dangerous and controlled substances from a dispensary in a manner inconsistent with sound medical ethics”; conduct unbecoming in a person licensed to practice or detrimental to the best interests of the public; unprofessional or dishonorable conduct, defined as violating a narcotic or drug law, and a board rule involving “dishonesty.”
The board issued its decision after accepting the hearing officer’s report last week.
According to a transcript of the April 23 disciplinary hearing, Nardacci was asked by board prosecutor Dan Rubin, “How many people have you turned away or refused to certify?”
“… I have a very high rate. I’ll bet it’s – I’ll bet it’s 98 percent get approved,” Nardacci testified.
“So 98 percent of the people that come to you for certification you approve,” Rubin asked.
“That’s right,” Nardacci said. Rubin later rephrased his question, asking, “So, about 98 percent of the people who come to you for medical marijuana certifications, you do, in fact, certify?
“Very high – very high number,” Nardacci replied.
Appel advised the board to discount that answer, saying it appeared Nardacci “was justifiably confused as to the meaning of the administrative prosecutor’s question.”
In his subsequent email to the Journal, Nardacci elaborated: “I was confused by the prosecutor’s question, thinking he meant of those I qualify versus the total of those who want to be certified.”
The board’s order on Tuesday said that, after the competency evaluation, Nardacci can submit a plan to the board for a restricted license if he is supervised by another physician.
His attorney, Paul Livingston, has said he planned an appeal.
Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Rosenberg, who was the board’s expert in the case, has been hired as the medical director of the state medical cannabis program.
Rosenberg will work part-time for the state and continue in his private practice.
“All patient applications that include his signature or related medical records will be reviewed by another Department of Health doctor, said Kenny Vigil, spokesman for the state Department of Health.