Skip to main content.

Doctors Behaving Badly: Body count tripped up prolific prescriber of painkillers

Doctors Behaving Badly: Body count tripped up prolific prescriber of painkillers

Picture of William Heisel

The medical examiner called Dr. Bernard N. Bass with some bad news: one of his
patients had been found dead. Bass refused to sign the death certificate.

This was a strange response, given that Bass had signed his name over and over in the
previous two years, every time Ryan Mazzola came into Bass' North Hollywood office asking for pain medication. Less of a surprise was the autopsy report: the patient died from a lethal mix of alcohol and hydrocodone.

Mazzola was 21 when he started going to Bass for pain medicine. He died in August 2005.

He was typical of Bass' clientele. According to Medical Board of California records, Bass saw a lot of twenty-somethings who had managed, in their short lives, to develop chronic back conditions that required massive doses of addictive painkillers. One patient was taking nine 10 mg tablets of Hydrocodone per day, 50% more than the recommended maximum daily dose.

These patients weren't satisfied with getting all their drugs from Bass, either. They went to other doctors who wrote them similar prescriptions. And when they ran out of drugs, they came back to Bass and said, among other things, that their girlfriend had flushed the drugs down the toilet, so they needed more. One of the patients, according to medical board records, "received 1,515 tablets of Lorcet 10/500 or Lortab 10/650 from three different providers," including Bass.

Now, how is a well-meaning doctor supposed to know that patients are doctor shopping? This has come up recently in the death of Michael Jackson, who had been trying to persuade several doctors to give him an anesthetic to help him sleep. How does one doctor know what another doctor is doing?

Over the course of two years, Bass was notified multiple times by the California Department of Justice's CURES program, which tracks prescriptions of controlled narcotics, that his patients were getting large amounts of drugs from him and large amounts of drugs from other doctors, too. In some cases, the state notified him three times that these patients were doctor shopping. Perhaps Bass saw this as competition. The medical board writes:

Respondent's notes indicate that he informed the patient about receiving the CURES reports showing treatment from two separate physicians for pain management. A note indicates that the patient agreed to have Respondent be his sole physician for pain management and Respondent provided prescription refills of Norco, Xanax and Soma.

More patients overdosed. A total of seven.

In May, Ventura County Sheriff's deputies raided Bass' Burbank home and his clinic. The Ventura County Attorney considered filing murder charges in connection with six patient deaths. The attorney ended up filing drug-distribution conspiracy charges. That alone was enough to stop Bass from practicing. He pleaded guilty and was facing a two-year prison sentence when, in June, Bass was found dead at his home.

John Kades, a Los Angeles County coroner's investigator told the Burbank Leader, "There were indications of a history of drug abuse and possible suicide."


Picture of

Doctors did their best when theyre treating Mary.Mary Travers death came after a long battle with leukemia. She was 72 years old, and the music she made with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey will live on.Their songs like “If I Had a Hammer” freely espoused a liberal sense of social justice. “Lemon Tree,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Puff, the Magic Dragon” are just a few of their award-winning hits. They helped bring Bob Dylan into America’s popular music consciousness and also opposed the war in Vietnam. In sum, the music of Peter, Paul and Mary gently informed the American mainstream that it was OK to question the way things were going in their country. For me, they have been a great comfort.That’s what Peter, Paul and Mary were all about, and Mary Travers’ voice stood for patriotism, authenticity and holding true to what you believe. A simple message with simple yet beautiful music can reach people of all ages, without the aid of payday installment loans to fund a glitzy ad campaign with 70-foot tall Hannah Montanas and Kanye Wests. Mary Travers and her goateed companions were honest. Their sense of justice rang like a freedom bell.

Picture of Angilee Shah

Here's an interesting counterpoint:

"But maybe the real epidemic is underdosing. Countless Americans suffer with severe chronic pain because doctors are afraid to treat them properly."

Leave A Comment


Do you have a great idea for a potentially impactful reporting project on a health challenge in California?  Our 2020 Impact Fund can provide financial support and six months of mentoring.


Follow Us



CHJ Icon