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First Published Sunday, 19 April 2009

By Psych Central News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on April 18, 2009

Christian Hageseth, a 68-year-old Colorado physician, was sentenced on Friday to nine months in jail for prescribing an antidepressant medication over the Internet to a Stanford University student. The student later committed suicide.

Hageseth had faced up to a year in jail after pleading no contest in February to a single felony count of practicing medicine without a license.

San Mateo County prosecutors in California said the case was one of the first dealing with “telemedicine,” in which doctors give advice and prescribe drugs via the phone or the Internet, sometimes to patients in states where they don’t have a medical license.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge James Ellis said he would allow Hageseth to serve his sentence in Colorado as he recovers from heart surgery. Judge Ellis also ordered him to pay $4,200 to the California medical board, which investigated the case.

In June 2005, Hageseth prescribed John McKay, 19, a generic form of the drug Prozac through a pharmacy website. McKay was a Stanford University freshman at the time and filled out a questionnaire when he requested the drug. Hageseth never did a consultation with McKay, prosecutors claimed.

McKay committed suicide at his mother’s home in California, by carbon monoxide poisoning shortly thereafter. Coroner’s reports determined the prescribed drug did not contribute as a cause of death, according to Wagstaffe.

A year later, San Mateo County prosecutors charged Hageseth with one count of practicing medicine without a license.

“Telemedicine is now dead,” Hageseth’s lawyer, Carelton Briggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday. “No doctor in his or her right mind would now pursue telemedicine unless licensed in all 50 states.”

Briggs argued that the federal government should regulate the practice of medicine over the Internet, based on the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But Wagstaffe said Hageseth broke California law by prescribing the drug without conducting an examination of McKay to assess his needs.

“California should be able to protect its own citizens from this type of conduct,” Wagstaffe said.

Hageseth surrendered his Colorado medical license in August 2005, shortly after McKay’s death, and has no intention of practicing medicine again, Briggs said.

Source: Wire reports

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