There was another side to the Harvard-educated physician.
July 17, 2017 1:40 PM   Subscribe

 
I gotta say, I am in awe - how did this guy find the time? Was it the drugs? Because a family, a high-profile job and hanging out with drug dealers and a mistress seems like more than I could accomplish in a month.
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on July 17 [22 favorites]


Oops.
posted by dfm500 at 2:02 PM on July 17


he had the same number of hours in the day as you do, GuyZero
posted by thelonius at 2:22 PM on July 17 [14 favorites]


Proof that winners don't ... wait, what? He raised how much money for USC?
posted by zippy at 2:22 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Just started to dig into this, and already I'm WTFing at how this guy didn't seem to blink at his activities being caught on video. How stoned were you, dude?
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:27 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


The dean of the Keck School of Medicine was a renowned eye surgeon whose skill in the operating room was matched by a gift for attracting money and talent to the university.

There was another side to the Harvard-educated physician.

During his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.


I have a sneaking suspicion that these might be more related than the article is implying.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:28 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


Omnipresent cameras and social media have turned the whole world into a gossipy small town. Criminals are still getting used to it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:32 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


This story is strange.

I'd have thought the intrigue, human drama, and very interesting things to think about that must be parts of being Dean of the medical school at USC would have made "drug-fueled parties" and hanging out with prostitutes too dull to waste a moment on.
posted by jamjam at 2:32 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


School of Keck? You're killing me 2017.
posted by srboisvert at 2:37 PM on July 17 [16 favorites]


I'd have thought the intrigue, human drama, and very interesting things to think about that must be parts of being Dean of the medical school at USC

WORKED FOR ASSOCIATE DEAN OF A PLACE THAT WAS NOT USC: [hollow laughter]

If anything, I'm amazed that the dude managed to rise to deanship while continuing as a surgeon. Practicing in your field is usually the first thing to go when administration starts killing you.
posted by Frowner at 2:39 PM on July 17 [13 favorites]


I'm amazed that the dude managed to rise to deanship while continuing as a surgeon. Practicing in your field is usually the first thing to go when administration starts killing you.

Exactly!
posted by GuyZero at 2:47 PM on July 17


Just started to dig into this, and already I'm WTFing at how this guy didn't seem to blink at his activities being caught on video. How stoned were you, dude?

He's a surgeon with an ultra-high-power career. I doubt it was the drugs that made him feel invulnerable.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:49 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Ah yes, the notoriously fast-paced, thrill-a-minute world of academic administration. Mysterious that doing drugs with hookers would seem more exciting to anyone than a committee meeting about a new strategic planning document.
posted by RogerB at 2:50 PM on July 17 [34 favorites]


Oh man, can you imagine attending a powerpoint presentation after a weekend GHB / Meth bender?

GHB is fun and all, but it is tricky to use well. (using it for date rape is pretty questionable, since it tastes like the devil ate a chemical processing plant and got the runs)

Ideally you up your dose every hour or so, trying to stay within the happy window of euphoria without overdosing and passing out. While on drugs.

Also, if you mix it with alcohol and pass out you are likely to choke on your own vomit and die.

(yes, I did work EMS at Burning Man, why do you ask?)
posted by poe at 2:56 PM on July 17 [34 favorites]


I can totally understand how this beast of a man wanted to infuse his bloodstream with the good stuff but goddamn sir keep better company or don't keep company at all.

Farewell sweet Prince of Keck.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:58 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I mean, where do you go after winning awards over your stamp collection?
posted by xtine at 2:58 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


I assume he didn't care about the videos because he, rightly, assumed that he was so powerful that everyone would care more about who he was than about what he did.
posted by crysflame at 3:13 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


LA Times Shocked To Learn That Rich And Powerful Person Does Drugs
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:28 PM on July 17 [15 favorites]


I assume he didn't care about the videos because he, rightly, assumed that he was so powerful that everyone would care more about who he was than about what he did.

That and, that for seemingly half the country, plausible deniability is no longer really a thing. (see also: current Presidency)
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:38 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Man, does USC have any ethical administrators?

Their provost got busted illegally interfering in unionizing efforts, censured by the NRLB, then went right back to doing the same thing. Their dean of libraries was so shitty at her last job that they paid her to not show up, then she defrauded them by taking the USC job while still collecting her paycheck from her job in Vancouver. They've had a bunch of department chairs step down after being told their job isn't to run departments — it's to fundraise, and that's what they'll be evaluated on (including some pretty shady "we bought these gala tickets for you already, so if you don't sell them, you're on the hook for their cost" shit). They lost their whole fine art grad program a couple years back as the students quit en masse.

I consult with a non-profit board that's about half USC folks at pretty high levels, and it sounds like most of the decent and competent people there are looking for exits wherever they can find them, because the current administration has basically jettisoned all sorts of the normal shit you have to do to keep a university running well all in the service of increasing the endowment — basically forgetting what the endowment is there to fund.
posted by klangklangston at 3:53 PM on July 17 [26 favorites]


I can totally understand how this beast of a man wanted to infuse his bloodstream with the good stuff but goddamn sir keep better company or don't keep company at all.

The dealer and the lover seemed like good-hearted enough people, albeit troubled.

USC fundraising galas can be glittering affairs with movie stars and billionaire donors rubbing elbows in Beverly Hills ballrooms. Puliafito glided confidently through these events, posing for photos with Gwyneth Paltrow

Ah, this is what you meant. Totally unacceptable company for the dean of a medical school to be keeping.
posted by ambrosen at 3:54 PM on July 17 [28 favorites]


GHB / Meth bender is pushing it, sure. But you start mainlining Goop...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:02 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I really don't want a meth addict with shaky hands for an eye surgeon.
posted by 445supermag at 4:19 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


I can't see why not.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:25 PM on July 17 [84 favorites]


He had a track record of building institutions and raising their profiles. At Tufts University Medical School in Boston in the 1990s, Puliafito was founding director of the New England Eye Center. A complimentary 1993 profile in the Boston Globe described Puliafito’s “in your face” personality and likened him to “one of those Yellowstone Park mud pots: placid on the surface for a few minutes, then erupting for a moment, then calm again.”

Sigh. I've been on a few hiring committees at my academic institution and can confirm, this kind of in your face personality, coupled with brash outspokenness (no filter) and overweening self confidence (arrogance), is very appealing to boards of governors. Those of us who notice and comment on the red flags are pooh-poohed and brushed aside.

There's little solace in being able to say, "I told you so" after your volatile new hire makes a mess of things. I'll bet there's someone who was on that hiring committee who is thinking that right now.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:30 PM on July 17 [23 favorites]


Ah, this is what you meant. Totally unacceptable company for the dean of a medical school to be keeping.

yes. as a man of medicine our hero knows that drugs 100% deliver the feel goods whereas gwyneth paltrow's latest goopy vagina creme is 100% bullshit (maybe even literally so?)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:34 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


the decent and competent people there are looking for exits wherever they can find them, because the current administration has basically jettisoned all sorts of the normal shit you have to do to keep a university running well all in the service of increasing the endowment

Which leaves the unprincipled members of the administration pretty much alone with the endowment.
posted by clew at 4:53 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Also, if you mix it with alcohol and pass out you are likely to choke on your own vomit and die.

Why specifically your own vomit?
posted by The Bellman at 5:09 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Why specifically your own vomit?

It could be someone else's vomit, but you can't prove whose vomit it is. You can't really dust for vomit.
posted by tclark at 5:18 PM on July 17 [26 favorites]


I think in that state getting ahold of someone else's requires too much coordination and sociability.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:46 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I don't know anything about Keck: I have certainly seen people combine superb medical careers with uber-hearty partying habits. It's a high-wire act, but wire-walking is a thing. And the people I know who walk that walk - I'd put myself under their care in a heartbeat, given how many other human failings the straight and narrow crowd evince.

Plus, there's a bonus - they don't tend to judge their patients. I also know some retired medics who, by the end of their careers, had a very jaded view of humanity and its habits. I absolutely would have put myself under their care too, because they and their drugged-up peers share commitment to doing their best and very high skills, but I know whose company I prefer...
posted by Devonian at 6:05 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Sounds like he did a good job. What's the problem?
posted by xammerboy at 6:30 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, shame on the LA times for this. Prohibitionists have the blood of all of the recent fentanyl overdose deaths on their hands.
posted by Barry David at 6:33 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I used to be in a research lab (not USC or UCLA, but in the area) and a number of people were definitely a version of Puliafito. One of them would always talk about how easily and cheaply he could synthesize a batch of profitable drugs ... if he wanted to, not that he would ever do anything like that, ha ha ha.

And all the way from the dean and star professor at the top, down to the student researchers, we were all convinced that we scientists were too smart and resourceful to overdose, to get addicted, to suffer side effects, etc. Want to party but not remember anything, or seemingly shorten a long plane trip? Mix this with that! Hungover? Get an IV drip! etc. These weren't secret techniques or anything, but you can see how someone could ramp up from there.
posted by Xere at 7:05 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


This is kinda crazy but I'm not all that shocked. Unsurprisingly, academic medicine rewards arrogant narcissists who want to get ahead, the same as any institution in these Corrupted States of America.

Conincidentally, my brother in law and sister in law (wife's brother) are both department heads at USC Keck. i haven't talked with them yet about this. My wife and I are both in academics here in Seattle. We actually arranged interviews for jobs that were theirs for the asking here. Come up, the quality of life is amazing we said. The cousins would grow up together. UW is no slouch as far as prestige, but they were offered *twice* as much money to stay at USC due to their grant funding. After coming up and interviewing they turned it down, citing the insult of the salary cut. Little did I know it was the meth and hookers that kept them in LA.

I'm sure my BIL is calculating how this affects his career advancement. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out how to stay relevant and useful as the SS Capitalist Medicine is sinking fast.

Yeah, I've known doctors who party hard as well, but literally all of them eventually ended up having to pee in a cup in front of a parole officer every day before being allowed to practice medicine again. I've heard colleagues who are in addiction medicine tell me that the only type of person who is not rehabilitatable is a physician with an active unrestricted license. This asshole literally has not been convicted of anything before today's article. I hope this ruins him.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:28 PM on July 17 [13 favorites]


Old but relevant:

Drugs Now Legal If User Is Employed
posted by killdevil at 7:36 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


This article really makes me feel dirty. Who cares what this guy does in his free time? Why are they pushing for police to look into it more? To nab a guy with a love of illegal substances?! Dumb. Unless there is evidence that he operated on patients under the influence, I think it's pretty vile to bring this guy's personal life into the public eye.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:51 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Who cares what this guy does in his free time? Why are they pushing for police to look into it more?

He was basically a drug dealer. He dealt drugs to underage kids (the younger brother) and vulnerable young people (the older sister). He tried to prevent her from getting medical care when she overdosed with him (told the dispatcher he was a doctor, and covered up her condition). He has prior accusations of assault and sexual harassment that I'm sure ended badly for his accusers in unjust ways. The police didn't even file a report about him and the meth and the OD'd young woman.

This is not just about his private life.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:29 PM on July 17 [30 favorites]


This article really makes me feel dirty. Who cares what this guy does in his free time?

From the article:

Sarah and Charles Warren said Puliafito wrote them prescriptions for asthma inhalers to soothe lungs raw from smoking marijuana and methamphetamine.

Writing prescriptions for personal "friends" (it feels to creepy to actually call them his actual friends considering how predatory and unbalanced the relationship appeared to be) to help them with symptoms of drugs that they all were using together doesn't really seem to line up with good medical ethics for any doctor.

And then he tried to tell the 911 operator that Warren was totally fine and only drunk when the hotel employee called 911 about her od'ing.

Not to mention the phenomenally bad judgment of putting all of this on tape.

Also from the article, Sarah Warren says:

Puliafito told her he was taking care of her, but she came to view the money he gave her as “a trap.”

“It was never enough for me to save up and leave,” she said.


I mean, I suppose if he were just doing drugs in his spare time, not constantly endangering other people and engaging in dubious medical practices and also never let his drug use interfere with his work, you could make that argument, but this is not that kind of case as far as I can tell.

Also, I'm almost always in favor of these kinds of people being held accountable. Look, USC and the police apparently all tried to brush this aside. Clearly this guy thought he was untouchable, with good reason, so I'm glad the LA Times brought this story to light. Just think about how many people of color and other people in a lower socioeconomic status are currently jail for having a bit of marijuana or whatever while rich jerks like this can do whatever the hell they want.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:40 PM on July 17 [23 favorites]


Yeah, I really did not feel, reading the article, that it was just targeting him because he liked to do illegal drugs in his spare time. He has been accused of sexual harassment and of assaulting a colleague, he is documented as having done nothing to assist, then lying about Sarah Warren's state when she had overdosed--a hotel employee had to call 911 because he did not!--and he prescribed drugs to personal contacts in a very unethical way. He used his status, power and position to form an imbalanced relationship with a much younger, vulnerable woman. This is not someone with the judgment necessary to be a good physician OR a good university administrator.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:42 PM on July 17 [19 favorites]


the head-shakiest part, buried in the article, is that he is still employed by usc now as a professor (though not dean), even after they found out about the incident in the hotel where the lady OD'd.
posted by wibari at 12:22 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


So what I'm taking away from this is if I want to be more productive, I could either spend hours researching and implementing productivity systems, or I could just do meth.

hmmmmmmmmm

choices, choices
posted by schroedinger at 1:10 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


My last sixteen years of $WORK was at said university, it's gone to shit the past few years across all the departments. When I got pissed and rage-quit I found my co-workers all waiting for their kids to graduate, waiting for open enrollment to switch health care, or just waiting out the final few years until retirement. Some others have the demeanor to wait it out and hope for a return to something decent. And now you know how my long run of happily working in academia ended because those folk up top kept getting worse and worse.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:43 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


One wasn't supposed to take the academia-as-drug-cartel model of labour and capital this literally.

I understand that his superiors, ethics people, sponsors, and other stakeholders were completely kept in the dark. They'd have all reacted promptly and decisively had the dean's behaviours were known to them. But sometimes in my fictional dark fantasy world that has nothing to do with reality, grantsmanship has consequences.
posted by runcifex at 4:22 AM on July 18


I find the reactions here to this to be very weird. Weirder, maybe, than this already very weird story.

I am far from a teetotaller. I have, in fact, partied fairly hard with doctors, lawyers and teachers. Legally, I am in favor of decriminalization and legalization. But this isn't my cardiologist friend who, when not on call, likes to relax with some weed, this is a guy with a tremendous amount of money and power abusing drugs and people recklessly and with extremely poor judgement exhibited across the board. I don't think he necessarily should go to jail, but I think he should get some help and I think the institutions that employ him should stop turning a blind eye, if for no other reason than that he's a walking, talking lawsuit (criminal or civil, take your pick) waiting to happen.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:47 AM on July 18 [11 favorites]


Yeah, count me among the folks stunned that anyone's takeaway here is that the LA Times is fucking Carrie Nation or something. This overachiever was watching a woman possibly die and didn't call the cops, then lied to the cops about what she'd taken after someone else called them.

The USC president who was told about all this should be forced to resign as well.
posted by mediareport at 10:06 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


Also in professionals with drug problems: The Lawyer, The Addict [NYT], part mournful elegy by the ex-wife of a Silicon Valley lawyer who overdosed and part examination of drug use and abuse in the profession.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:26 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


One thing that I wished this article had pushed harder on was to connect it to the larger problem in academia of simply shuffling around "superstars"--this guy had assualt and sexual assualt allegations/settlements that seem to have chased him out of his previous job and USC was just like, well does he still raise money? It calls to mind fairly recent academic scandals about the astronomer at Berkeley or a couple of philosophers with long lists of allegations that somehow don't prevent them from moving to another prestige post at a different university.
posted by TwoStride at 10:31 AM on July 18 [10 favorites]




Yeah, I also thought of the situation in philosophy as I was reading this, and found myself wondering if there were any academic fields that didn't have this sort of abusive rockstar problem. I'd long imagined that it wouldn't happen as much in intensely practical fields like engineering or medicine, because there was more contact with "the industry" (or, uh, an industry exists at all) and so more pressure towards professionalism and more modern norms of behavior. But… maybe not?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:34 AM on July 19


From that LA Times update, about the police response to the overdose :

Councilman Tyron Hampton said he wanted a written explanation for why a police report wasn’t promptly prepared.

Good for him. As always, the cover up, which continues, is as bad as if not worse than the original crime, because it reveals structural problems more institutionalized and harder to address. Anyone who doesn't see this episode as evidence of a major problem is being foolish.
posted by mediareport at 7:42 AM on July 20




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