LOS ANGELES (AP) — The president of the University of Southern California said officials will “examine and address” a newspaper report that the recently resigned dean of the medical school abused drugs and associated with criminals.
In a letter Tuesday, USC President C.L. Max Nikias acknowledged concern on campus following the Los Angeles Times report that Dr. Carmen Puliafito, 66, was seen on video apparently smoking methamphetamine.
“Our university categorically condemns the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of drugs,” the president said. “We are concerned about Dr. Puliafito and his family and hope that, if the article’s assertions are true, he receives the help and treatment he may need for a full recovery.”
The Times reported Monday that Puliafito, during his tenure as dean, kept company with a circle of criminals and addicts.
Puliafito, a renowned eye surgeon, led the Keck School of Medicine for nearly a decade before resigning in 2016. He remained on the Keck faculty and continued to represent the university at public events as recently as Saturday.
On Monday, USC said Puliafito was no longer seeing patients and was on leave. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Puliafito were unsuccessful Wednesday. He has not spoken to the Times or commented publicly on the report.
Asked Tuesday if the university had discussed the Puliafito case with the California State Medical Board, USC said reports by peer review organizations were confidential.
“We can confirm, however, that the California Medical Board is aware of the situation,” USC said in a statement. “They have the sole authority to decide whether and how much to investigate.”
The current dean of the medical school told a gathering of medical scholars and graduate students on Wednesday that USC had launched multiple investigations into Puliafito’s conduct.
“These allegations, if they are true, they are horrible and despicable,” Dr. Rohit Varma told a town hall-type meeting, according to the Times, which obtained a recording of the meeting.
“He’s a man who had a brilliant career, all gone down the drain,” Varma said.
Varma said Puliafito had sought treatment in the past for alcoholism but the drug allegations “came as a complete shock to us.”
“He called me yesterday and he apologized for what had happened and for putting me and the school and SC through what has happened, and he informed me that he’s going to go and get help,” Varma said.
Puliafito resigned his $1.1 million-a-year dean’s post in the middle of last year’s spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.
He did not mention that three weeks earlier, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room, according to the Times. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered. Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, according to a police report, but made no arrests.
The newspaper interviewed six people who said they used drugs with Puliafito in Pasadena, Huntington Beach and Las Vegas, as well as on the USC campus. They ranged in age from late teens to late thirties. None were USC students.
Members of the group captured their exploits in photos and videos shot in 2015 and 2016.
In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, “Thought I’d take an ecstasy before the ball.” Then he swallows the pill.
In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman smokes heroin from a piece of heated foil.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/