LOS ANGELES, Feb 5 (Reuters) - A Southern California doctor was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison on Friday for over-prescribing drugs that caused the fatal overdose of three patients in a murder case capped by the first conviction of its kind in the United States.
The case against Dr. Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 46, comes amid what public health officials describe as a national epidemic of drug abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the trend is fueling nearly 17,000 overdose deaths annually, as well as a rise in heroin addiction.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in October convicted Tseng, who specialized in internal medicine, of three counts of second-degree murder in a case prosecutors said showed she put greed above patients' wellbeing.
She was also found guilty of 19 counts of unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.
See images from the case:
Lisa Tseng convicted in landmark overdose case
California doctor gets 30 years to life in landmark overdose case
Dr Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng cries during her arraignment, flanked by attornies, Edward Welbourn, left, and Alan Stokke, Friday, March 16, 2012 in Los Angeles. Tseng, a California doctor, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder in the prescription drug overdose deaths of three patients. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
LOS ANGELES, CA. - OCTOBER 14: The prosecution shows young men who died from prescription drug overdoses written by Dr.Hsiu-Ying 'Lisa' Tseng during the prosecution's closing arguments in the trial of Hsiu-Ying 'Lisa' Tseng in Los Angeles County Superior Court on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Rowland Heights doctor is charged in the deaths of a string of perception medicine overdoses of men in their 20's. (Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
FILE - In this March 16, 2012 file photo Dr. Lisa Tseng listens in court during her arraignment in Los Angeles. Attorneys are set to deliver opening statements Monday, Aug. 31, in the trial of Tseng, charged with murder the deaths of three young men who overdosed on prescription pain killers. Tseng has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder. She could face up to life in prison if convicted on all the charges against her. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
April Rovero, the mother of victim Joey Rovero, speaks to reporters after Dr. Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng was convicted of second-degree murder in his death and the killings of two other patients who died of drug overdoses from pills she prescribed, in Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. The Rowland Heights doctor, not seen, was convicted Friday of three counts of second-degree murder for prescribing massive quantities of addictive and dangerous drugs to patients with no legitimate need, three of whom died of overdoses, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
HsiuÂ Ying 'Lisa'' Tseng, a Rowland Heights doctor charged with secondÂdegree murder and other counts in the prescription drug overdose deaths of three male patients in their 20s, appears in a Los Angeles courtroom with lawyer Donald B. Marks (left) for a preliminary hearing on Monday, June 4, 2012. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng appears in court Friday March 9, 2012, in Los Angeles. Tseng is charged with three counts of second-degree murder in the prescription drug overdose deaths of patients. She faces 21 other felony counts. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Kelle and Bruce Stavron, huddled together near a photo of their son Matthew who died of an overdose of drugs like those he got from Dr.Lisa Tseng. Photo of Mathew was shot just 3 days before he passed away. He was happy, sober, very much in love and engaged to be married at the time of photo taken. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Doctor Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng is shown in court, Friday March 2, 2012, to face murder charges, as her arraignment was postponed until March 9, in Los Angeles. The prosecutor took the rare step of charging this doctor, Tseng, with murder in the prescription drug overdose deaths of three patients. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
HsiuÂ Ying 'Lisa'' Tseng, a Rowland Heights doctor charged with secondÂdegree murder and other counts in the prescription drug overdose deaths of three male patients in their 20s, appears in a Los Angeles courtroom for a preliminary hearing on Monday, June 4, 2012. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Friday, March 16, 2012, file photo, Dr Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng listens in court during her arraignment, in Los Angeles. The Rowland Heights doctor was convicted Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, of three counts of second-degree murder for prescribing massive quantities of addictive and dangerous drugs to patients with no legitimate need, three of whom died of overdoses, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
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Under the sentence imposed on Friday, Tseng must serve at least 30 years in prison before she is eligible for parole. She has been in custody since March 2012.
Criminally prosecuting physicians for patients' deaths is relatively rare, with one notable case being the 2011 involuntary manslaughter conviction of Dr. Conrad Murray for giving pop star Michael Jackson a fatal dose of a surgical anesthetic to help him sleep.
Prosecutors said Tseng's conviction, the culmination of a six-week trial, marked the first time in which a U.S. physician was found guilty of murder for over-prescribing drugs.
Licensed to practice in 1997, Tseng opened a storefront medical office in 2005 in Rowland Heights, a hillside community east of Los Angeles that is home to many upper-middle-class and wealthy immigrants from China, Taiwan and South Korea.
At the trial, prosecutors pointed to nine overdose deaths associated with Tseng's practice in less than three years, during which they said she had made $5 million from her clinic, dispensing potent, addictive medications to people who did not need them.
The drugs included powerful narcotics such as oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone, and sedatives like Xanax and Valium.
She was convicted in the 2009 deaths of three patients - Vu Nguyen, 28, Steven Ogle, 24, and Joseph Rovero, 21. None resided anywhere near Rowland Heights, and one, Rovero, was an Arizona State University student from the San Francisco area.
Tseng, who received her medical degree from Michigan State University, surrendered her medical license prior to arrest. Her federal license to prescribe drugs was revoked. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Alistair Bell and Dan Grebler)