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Tampa cosmetic surgeon in legal trouble over use of narcotic Demerol

TAMPA — She was licensed to perform cosmetic surgery and had access to pain medicines at her Tampa clinic. But police are investigating allegations that Dr. Christina Paylan used patient names to get Demerol for herself.

She injected it with her boyfriend in the $510,000 home they share near Bayshore Boulevard, police allege in court records. Detectives found empty Demerol packages in a trash can at the curb and in the bathroom.

This month, Tampa police arrested Paylan, 43, and boyfriend Joseph E. Abdo, 55, accusing them of illegally possessing Demerol, an addictive narcotic similar to morphine in strength. Paylan was also charged with trafficking hydrocodone and possessing Valium and Xanax.

An office manager estimated that one patient who came to the clinic for massages and Demerol injections had spent $100,000 on Demerol, a search warrant affidavit states.

The employee, John Michael Gonzalez, told the St. Petersburg Times that Paylan fired him June 11, the day she was released on $54,250 bond.

The police investigation started in October, shortly after a "concerned family member" of Abdo's hired a private investigator, the affidavit states.

The investigator searched a trash bin at the end of the couple's driveway at 3110 W Harbor View Ave. in Tampa's Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood. Twice, he found empty boxes of Demerol, bloody bandages and used syringes, the affidavit states. Police found the same type of trash when they searched later that month.

Paylan, the director of Cosmetic Surgery of Tampa Bay at 3230 W Kennedy Blvd., declined to comment, citing her attorney's advice.

Attorney Alex Stavrou wrote in an e-mail that Paylan denies every allegation and "knows she will be exonerated at the conclusion of the process."

Abdo did not respond to messages left on his phone or at his house. In jail records, he listed his occupation as CEO of Proper Power & Energy. The firm's website describes it as an exploration and production company for oil and gas.

His son, Joseph M. Abdo, 28, has cooperated with police and told the Times that he is concerned about his father's well-being.

"He's a good man. He's loved by his family," the son said.

Initially, Paylan concealed the removal of Demerol from her clinic, office manager Gonzalez told police. But in recent months she was blatant, he said, according to the affidavit.

Gonzalez told police he once saw Paylan and Abdo inject Demerol at their house, the affidavit states. He said Paylan has ordered 300 vials of the substance so far this year — more than the clinic needed.

When questioned by police, Paylan stated she had been prescribing and administering Demerol to her boyfriend for a medical condition for at least three months, records state.

A pharmacy receipt for Demerol recovered by police from the couple's trash was written under the name of a female patient, according to the search warrant.

It's legal for Paylan to prescribe medications to friends and family members, according the Florida Department of Health, but the same standards apply as with any patient: A doctor must complete a physical and gather the patient's medical history.

Doctors are not allowed to prescribe controlled substances to themselves.

Paylan is licensed to practice medicine in the state of Florida. State officials have the option of suspending a physician's license if they believe the doctor poses an immediate danger to the public, said Department of Health spokeswoman Jennifer Hirst.

Paylan graduated in 1994 from the University of Southern California. She was dismissed from her residency program at the University of California at Irvine a few years later, according to court records.

She filed a lawsuit complaining that she had been dismissed for alleging sexual harassment, but a judge removed several of the defendants from the suit and later found against her, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 1998, a judge also ruled that the lawsuit was baseless and ordered Paylan — who then went by Grudzinski — to pay about $1.1 million in legal fees.

The judgment followed her to New York, where she worked at another residency program, and then to Florida, where in 2003 she declared bankruptcy.

That year, she applied for a medical license in California but was denied, according to the Medical Board of California. No reason was stated in a document provided to the Times.

However, she had already received a license in Florida two years earlier, in 2001, the same year she started a University of South Florida critical care surgery fellowship at Tampa General Hospital.

She opened her Tampa clinic in 2004, calling it the Institute of Cosmoplastic Surgery. In 2008, she opened an all-organic spa in her office.

A photo caption in an earlier version of this story mischaracterized the charge against Abdo. He faces a single charge: possession of Demerol.

Times news researcher Natalie Watson and staff writers Stephanie Bolling, Robbyn Mitchell and Letitia Stein contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa cosmetic surgeon in legal trouble over use of narcotic Demerol 06/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 9:51am]
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