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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Implicated in deaths of two patients, Moses Lake doctor stripped of medical license

A bottle of Purdue Pharma OxyContin medication sits on a pharmacy shelf in Provo, Utah, in August 2016. A Moses Lake family doctor was stripped of her Washington state medical license last week following an investigation into the opioid overdose deaths of at least two of her patients.  (George Frey/Bloomberg)
By Amanda Sullender The Spokesman-Review

A Moses Lake family doctor was stripped of her Washington state medical license last week following an investigation into the overdose deaths of at least two of her patients.

In a 40-page report released July 18, the Washington Medical Commission found Dr. Irene Kimura could “never be rehabilitated,” and that she may use her position to harm members of the public should she practice medicine again.

In addition to the deaths of two of her patients, Kimura is suspected of professional misconduct for requesting a loan for tens of thousands of dollars from one of her patients. A health commission investigation accused her of partially repaying the loan with under-the-table medication without a prescription.

Calls to Kimura’s office were not returned this week.

Kimura was first licensed in 1992 and spent much of her career as a primary care physician at Comprehensive Family Care, a primary care clinic in Moses Lake.

Through this small practice, the Medical Commission alleges Kimura preyed upon vulnerable Washington residents addicted to opioids and other painkillers – often pushing patients to greater amounts of the drug while ignoring any signs her patients may have been addicted or harmed by the drugs she prescribed them.

The medical licensing agency’s case centers around two patients, a husband and wife, who died of drug overdoses three years apart.

Kimura first began treating the husband during the summer of 2017. The 56-year-old man suffered from chronic back pain and claimed to have lost his oxycodone medication during a recent trip. Without requesting any records regarding the patient’s previous care, Kimura allegedly prescribed him the “highest dose (they) had been prescribed” in the last year.

If the doctor had looked up these records on the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring program, she would have seen her patient had requested opioid prescriptions from six providers in the past month and had already received multiple refills.

Kimura also did not look for any other medical issues that could not be treated by opioids, the report said.

“(Kimura’s) sole focus was on supplying an opioid pain prescription,” reads the medical commission report.

Several months later, after a hospital discharge, Kimura prescribed the man morphine, in addition to providing an early refill of oxycodone.

According to the commission, it was “critical” the morphine not be provided until he no longer had remaining oxycodone medications.

Two days after he was prescribed the morphine, the patient was found dead from an overdose attributed to “mixed drug toxicity.”

During the time the man was treated by Kimura, his prescriptions were managed by his wife, who was also addicted to opioids. Two weeks after the death of her husband, the 51-year-old widow began treatment with Kimura as well.

Suffering from shoulder pain and chronic knee and back pain, the woman had been prescribed opioids from numerous previous providers.

She had been cut off from the medication by another doctor after the woman admitted to them she was addicted.

Again ignoring documentation of the woman’s drug abuse, Kimura began prescribing her opioids in January 2018, the report said. Over the next three years, Kimura increased the patient’s daily opioid dosage to six times the amount she initially prescribed.

Between August 2017 and October 2019, the patient had at least 29 emergency department visits, most of which centered on her request for opioids.

In March 2019, the woman was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit where she admitted she had contemplated overdosing on her opioid medication. The patient told Kimura of the psychiatric hold and gave the doctor permission to speak to her psychiatrist at the unit. No documentation shows Kimura did this, and the doctor continued prescribing opioids to her patient at same level as before, the report said.

The woman filled her last opioid prescription from Kimura on Feb. 19, 2020. She died of an overdose on Feb. 25.

Following the deaths of the husband and wife, a family member filed a complaint against Kimura and an investigation was opened. While the investigation was ongoing, Kimura was restricted from prescribing controlled substances but allowed to continue practicing medicine.

The investigation was the second involving the doctor. Her Washington medical license was suspended in 2010 related to her prescribing a medication with a high risk of causing bleeding, then not ending that medication when her patient showed signs of excessive bleeding. That patient died from the internal bleeding caused by the medication.

At the same time, Kimura was investigated for prescribing controlled substances and continually increasing dosages, “without sufficient documented” rationale, the report said. But no disciplinary action was taken at that time for these allegations.

Her license was suspended for three years, and she began practicing medicine again in 2013. During that time, she applied for her medical license to be renewed in Oregon but failed to disclose she had been under investigation in Washington. Following an investigation in that state, she surrendered her Oregon license.

During the subsequent 2021 investigation into Kimura’s actions involving the married couple, a third case came to light and was scrutinized by the medical commission. The doctor treated this patient from 2008 through his death in 2021.

The man’s treatment followed a similar pattern. He was prescribed opioids for his below-the-knee amputation, left foot and ankle injury, and chronic lower back pain. Despite the medicine not adequately controlling his pain, Kimura failed to “taper pain medications when clinically indicated,” according to the report.

Kimura did lower the amount of prescribed opioids in 2017 but noted she was doing so out of “concern for new opioid prescribing guidelines and insurance limitations.”

At one point, she indicated in her notes that the patient was “addicted” to opioids but did not diagnose him with Opioid Use Disorder or change his treatment, the report said.

In 2013, Kimura told her patient she was “going through financial difficulties” and requested the man loan her money. He went on to loan the doctor $25,000. After she was unable to repay the loan, Kimura allegedly agreed to stave off interest payments by providing her patient “samples of Abilify,” an antipsychotic medication, without a prescription.

In their report, the commission called this breach of professional conduct “shocking.”

“(Kimura) significantly overstepped the boundaries of the physician-patient relationship. Making (Kimura’s) actions even worse was that (the patient) was more vulnerable than many other patients, as he suffered from a substance use problem, depression, and memory loss,” the report reads.

The patient went on to participate in the commission investigation before dying of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease last year. Kimura never fully repaid the $25,000 loan before his death – having “periodically missed payments” and stopped making payments altogether in November 2020, the report said.

Upon the commission’s finding’s being released last week, Kimura’s medical license was “permanently revoked.”