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Embattled doctor surrenders Utah medical license

Published: Monday, July 21 2014 7:39 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A doctor who was stripped of his license to prescribe controlled substances by state regulators earlier this month has surrendered his Utah medical license.

In a stipulated order entered Monday, Dr. Paul M. Gahlinger agreed to give up his license for continuing to prescribe controlled substances to patients even though he had not had held a valid Drug Enforcement Administration registration in Utah since December 2013.

"(Gahlinger) admits that the findings of fact … constitute unprofessional conduct as defined (in state law), and that said conduct justifies disciplinary action against (his) license," the stipulated order states.

State regulators determined on July 8 that Gahlinger's alleged conduct posed "an immediate threat to public health, safety and welfare" and barred him from continuing to prescribe prescription drugs.

The allegations stemmed from Gahlinger's use of the drug Suboxone to treat patients for substance abuse issues, according to an emergency order issued by the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

In a telephone interview given in response to that order, Gahlinger said his treatment program for opioid dependence has saved lives and maintained that the state's case against him lacked merit.

On Monday, he told the Deseret News he decided to surrender his Utah license rather than fight back because his work at a rural hospital on the island of Saipan is too important to interrupt.

"I disagree with the charges but I am so busy here setting up our rural clinic I decided to acquiesce and surrender my Utah license to practice," he said. "It's not worth the time to fight it."

State regulators alleged that Gahlinger didn't have enough contact with his patients in Utah to "properly evaluate or take a medical record" before prescribing Suboxone, a medication used to wean people off more powerful painkillers or illicit drugs like heroin.

That's because Gahlinger lives on Saipan and only sees patients at his Medicruiser Clinic — operated out of his assistant's Uintah County home — via online video conferencing, according to the emergency order.

The order identified three of Gahlinger's patients by their initials. One patient was an obese man with high blood pressure. The other two were pregnant woman. All three received prescriptions for Suboxone and dealt almost exclusively with Kelly Reyes, a woman who works as Gahlinger's assistant but lacks any kind of state license, regulators said.

When the two female patients gave birth at Ashley Regional Medical Center in late 2013, their babies had to be monitored for withdrawals from Suboxone, according to the emergency order.

In the case of one of the women, Gahlinger, who does not have privileges at and is not affiliated with the hospital, did "little physical monitoring" of her condition and "did not communicate with (her) OBGYN," the emergency order states.

Gahlinger can reapply for a Utah medical license in three years; however, there is no guarantee his application will be approved. The surrender order he signed indicates that disciplinary action taken in Utah could also affect his licenses to practice medicine in other states.

Gahlinger, who hold a medical license in California, sounded unconcerned about that possibility.

"This is purely a Utah issue," he said. "It just seems kind of silly all the way around."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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