Oral surgeon under investigation by SBI, accused of abusing controlled substances

Surgeon was already under investigation after patient died following anesthesia in his care
Additional information and evidence prompted the Dental Board to completely suspend Austin’s license to practice dentistry
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 1:43 PM EDT
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LELAND, N.C. (WECT) - More issues for a local oral surgeon, who was already under investigation after a prominent doctor died last summer following a dental procedure in his care. Dr. Mark Austin had his Leland dental practice shut down earlier this month, and the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has confirmed it is investigating “allegations of misuse of pharmaceutical drugs by Dr. Mark Austin.”

The Leland Police Department requested the SBI’s assistance on the case August 3, 2020. That was the same day Wilmington Cardiologist Dr. Henry Patel died, after being sedated by Dr. Austin before a dental implant.

According to a disciplinary action filed by the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, on July 30, 2020, “[Dr. Austin] administered sedative agents to patient [Henry Patel] prior to and during the procedure. Towards the end of the procedure, patient H.P.’s oxygen saturation levels began to drop significantly. [Dr. Austin] took certain measures to address H.P.’s de-saturation, such as attempting ventilation, an unsuccessful effort to place an endotracheal tube, and contacting 911, but H.P.’s oxygen levels remained in the 60-70% range for at least 20 minutes. When EMS arrived at [Dr. Austin’s] office at 3:50 P.M., patient H.P. was pulseless and apneic and in an asystole heart rhythm. [Dr. Austin] had not initiated CPR prior to arrival of EMS.” Dr. Patel suffered an irreversible anoxic brain injury, and died 4 days later.

Following Dr. Patel’s death, Dr. Austin signed a Consent Order on January 4, agreeing that he would only administer anesthesia or sedation to patients through a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist or other authorized provider, while the Dental Board investigated what went wrong.

The Dental Board received additional information and evidence after that January consent order that prompted them to completely suspend Austin’s license to practice dentistry.

“The current action is being taken based on... probable cause that [Dr. Austin] has committed significant additional violations,” the documents suspending Austin’s dental license read. “Specifically, the Board received information demonstrating that [Dr. Austin] has prescribed controlled substances for his staff members, including prescribing controlled substances outside the scope of practicing dentistry, such as narcotic cough suppressants and sedative-hypnotic medications. The Board also recently received evidence that during an audit by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted in 2021, [Dr. Austin] was unable to account for controlled substances that were supposed to be maintained at his office, including the schedule II- controlled substance Fentanyl. Most recently, the Board obtained evidence indicating that Respondent has taken controlled substances, including Fentanyl, from his dental practice and used them personally during portions of 2019 and 2020.”

Dr. Austin signed a Consent Order suspending his dental license on May 5. His Leland office, Austin Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, is closed. Attempts to reach Dr. Austin for comment have been unsuccessful, but WECT will update this story if he responds to messages.

“The mission and purpose of the [Dental] Board is to make sure that the public has confidence in the practice of dentistry. So our constituents are not dentists, they are the public. We are here to make sure... as far as it is possible, that we can keep the public safe,” Dental Board CEO Bobby White said to WECT of the recent disciplinary actions. “As more evidence has come in, we now have more concern. So we now have the second order that now stops him from practicing dentistry generally. So, yes, you can see kind of an escalation in this case.”

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