University Exec Likely Violated Law Over Prescriptions; No Record Found of Painkillers, Including Morphine

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Nihon University headquarters

A former vice president of Nihon University is highly likely to have violated the Medical Practitioners Law when prescribing drugs to a former chairperson of the university’s board of directors, according to a special investigative panel.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Hidetoshi Tanaka is seen in December 2021.

The former vice president, 68, was the attending physician to Hidetoshi Tanaka, who died in January. He prescribed painkillers, including morphine, to Tanaka but failed to record the prescription despite being legally obliged to do so, the university panel has said.

Nihon University experienced a series of scandals in 2021, including a breach of trust case involving a former board member, and a tax evasion case involving Tanaka.

In August 2022, the special investigation committee consisting of a public prosecutor-turned-lawyer and other members was established to examine whether any other irregularities had occurred. The panel submitted its final report to the university in February this year.

According to the report and sources related to the university, Tanaka underwent surgery for rectal cancer at a hospital in Chiba Prefecture around 2018 and recuperated at his home in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

He sometimes received treatment at Nihon University Itabashi Hospital in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward.

The former vice president, who was then working at the university hospital, instructed three doctors to prepare drug prescriptions – including one for Opso Oral Solution, which contains morphine – on a total of seven occasions between August 2021 and April 2022. He is believed to have then had the hospital’s office manager and others obtain the drugs at a pharmacy and deliver them to Tanaka.

The former vice president resigned from the university in 2022.

All of the three doctors prepared the prescriptions without having examined the patient. “I thought the former vice president had seen the patient and determined that the prescriptions were necessary,” one of them said.

However, the panel examined the hospital’s electronic medical records and found no record of medical treatment to prescribe drugs to Tanaka.

The former vice president refused to be interviewed by the panel. When asked in writing whether he had treated Tanaka, he allegedly refused to answer for confidentiality reasons.

The former vice president and other doctors sometimes performed medical treatment at Tanaka’s home, including administering an intravenous drip and taking a blood sample, but there was no record of such visits in the medical records at the university hospital.

Under the Medical Practitioners Law, people who provide medical treatment must record such details as the name of the disease, a patient’s symptoms and details of the treatment, including drug prescriptions. Violators can be subject to a fine of up to ¥500,000.

The panel’s final report said that since there were no records of the prescriptions in the electronic system, it is highly likely that the former vice president violated the law. “The prescription of a medical narcotic, which should be strictly controlled, also makes this a serious case,” the committee stated.

Asked about the panel’s findings, the university only said it was told to consult with the regulatory authorities and wait for their response. The Yomiuri Shimbun also asked the university in writing for comment regarding the former vice president, but it had not responded as of Wednesday.

“The report shows that inappropriate behavior was the norm regarding Tanaka at the university hospital, which has people’s lives in its hands. This indicates that there was a lack of governance within the university,” said Shinji Hatta, a professor emeritus at Aoyama Gakuin University and an expert on university operations.