A Battered Doctor, A Slain Patient And A Family’s Quest For Answers
By Brian Rinker
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The police report is all David Cole Lang’s family has to describe his last moments on Earth.
Fifty pages of officer narratives and witness interviews filled with grisly detail, it lacks any explanation for his death. Ten months later, Lang’s widow, Monique, says she still has no clue as to why the 33-year-old combat veteran and father who struggled with opioid addiction ended up fatally shot by a doctor whom — as far as Monique knew — he hadn’t seen in over a year.
“I didn’t understand why he was there,” she said. “I still don’t.”
On that April evening last year, according to interviews in the report, Lang yelled and cussed at the addiction and pain treatment doctor, Edwin Zong, in his office, and leapt across a desk to punch him repeatedly. Hearing the doctor scream for help, the last patient waiting to see Zong that day ran to open the door. He told police he found Lang standing over Zong, curled in a fetal position on the floor, his face covered in blood and “the fear of a child in his eyes.”
“Hey!” the patient yelled.
When Lang turned toward the doorway, Zong told police, the doctor opened a desk drawer and grabbed a handgun. He fired three or four times. One bullet tore through the blood vessels in Lang’s neck. He staggered outside, collapsed in a parking lot and died.
Local authorities concluded that Zong had acted in self-defense, and he faced no charges. In an email to Kaiser Health News, the doctor declined a request for an interview but said he believes he was targeted for robbery. “I was lucky I wasn’t killed,” he wrote. “Treating addiction is a very tough job, many doctors won’t do it.”
The tragedy that played out in Zong’s office speaks to a dangerous trend: In many parts of the United States, the number of people addicted to opioids far exceeds the capacity of doctors willing and authorized to treat them. That is particularly true when it comes to professionals like Zong who dispense Suboxone or Subutex, both formulations of buprenorphine — widely considered the optimal addiction treatment because it all but erases opioid withdrawal symptoms without creating a significant high.
With tens of thousands of Americans dying annually from opioid overdoses, the Food and Drug Administration recently signaled that it is open to expanding the number of drugs available to ease withdrawal and reduce cravings, but access to prescribers remains a problem even for the drugs that already exist.
Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.