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State-Employed Psychiatrist, Barred From Prescribing Opioids, Loses Bid To Have Sanctions Lifted

A psychiatrist employed by the state, sanctioned in 2013 and 2015 for violations in his private practice, recently lost a bid to have regulators drop restrictions on his license arising from his illegally prescribing opioids to himself, his wife, and two private patients he never adequately examined.

Fines and license restrictions against Dr. Avijit Mitra have not affected his service with two state agencies.

He was hired by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, or DMHAS, in 2015 after resigning from UConn Health the previous year following a disciplinary hearing stemming from an alleged argument and possible confidentiality breach with a state prison inmate.

Mitra, 52, came to the mental health and addiction agency as a lateral transfer, even though he was barred from prescribing the principle drug used in treating opioid addiction. Under the contract between the state and the union, lateral transfers "shall'' be given preference over new hires, said Mary Kate Mason, a spokeswoman with DMHAS.

A psychiatrist assigned to Connecticut Valley Hospital, Mitra is in good standing with the department, Mason said. Mitra, paid $250,000 annually in salary and benefits, works in the mental-health division, not addiction services, and is not called on to treat drug addiction, Mason said. If one of his patients needed a prescription for Buprepherine, better known by the trade name Suboxone, another doctor would be called in to write it, Mason said.

Mitra, who has private practice in Woodbridge, declined to comment.

At the hearing before the state Medical Examining Board last month, David Tilles, a lawyer for the Department of Public Health, asked that the panel maintain the sanctions against Mitro to protect the public.

Mitra's attorney, Penny Q. Seaman of New Haven, argued that the license restriction was preventing Mitra from keeping his professional certification in child and adolescent psychiatry. Mitra proposed replacing the permanent ban with this language: "Respondent acknowledges and agrees that it is best practice for him not to prescribe controlled substances for himself, and/or his family."

The medical board voted 11-1 to preserve the restriction.

Mitra in 2013 paid a total of $55,000 in fines to the state Department of Consumer Protection and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to settle the prescription-misconduct charges, which stemmed from his private practice. He was was permanently banned from prescribing Buprenorphine.

Mitra wrote prescriptions for one or both of the private patients for Oxycontin, Opana, Zanax, or Suboxone without adequate examination, documentation, or monitoring, according to an April 2015 state consent order.

Mitra also "wrote prescriptions for various controlled substances for himself and his wife without records," the order states.

In addition to the fines, his license was placed on probation for a year, and he was compelled to hire an outside consultant to monitor his private practice. The probation period expired in June, and Mitra satisfied the terms of the consent order, records show.

Mitra in 2014 resigned from his state job as a psychiatrist with UConn Correctional Managed Health, the branch of the UConn Health Center that provides medical and mental-health care to state prison inmates. He left UConn Health following a disciplinary hearing over allegations that he was "verbally unprofessional" with an inmate and may have breached the inmate's confidentiality, said Lauren Woods, spokeswoman for UConn Health.

Woods said she could find no records indicating whether UConn Health was aware of the sanctions against Mitra that stemmed from his private practice.

Because Mitra left UConn Health voluntarily, he was eligible for a lateral transfer to a similar position in state government.

He chose the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and that, said Mason, is how he came to work at Connecticut Valley Hospital.

Though the agency's commissioner, Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, is a leader in the battle against the epidemic of opioid overdoses sweeping the state, Mitra's inability to write Suboxone prescriptions "hasn't hindered his work," Mason said.

She said DMHAS was aware of Mitra's background when he was hired.

"He paid a significant fine," said Mason, who noted that the misconduct occurred before he was an agency employee.

Mitra's unsuccessful attempt to have the license restriction removed also has no bearing on his employment at CVH -- the job does not require him to be board certified, Mason said.

Mitra passed a four-month probationary period after joining the department, she said.

Connecticut Valley Hospital employs 46 psychiatrists, and they are permitted to maintain a private practice as long as it doesn't interfere with their state service, Mason said. They do not have to disclose to DMHAS that they have a private practice.

She said the federal law against self-referrals of Medicaid patients by doctors, known as the Stark law, prohibits Mitra and any other CVH psychiatrist with a private practice from seeing CVH patients privately.

Mitra's lawyer, Penny Q. Seaman of New Haven, said Mitra works at his private practice on nights and weekends.

Seaman said Mitra made the request to the medical examining board last month "because it was important to him to stay board certified. It indicates a level of achievement -- but his job doesn't require it."

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