Doctors and Medical Professionals Overprescribing Medications
There is no question that the opioid epidemic is an absolute tragedy of the modern age.
We've seen so many promising young people and productive adults whose lives have been derailed by addiction since the late 1990s when pharmaceutical giants opened Pandora's box by promoting newly developed and powerful pain medications—and urging medical practitioners to prescribe them.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't helped matters any, either, as evidenced by the record-high number of fatal overdoses that occurred in the U.S. between May 2020 and April 2021.
What many members of the general public don't realize, however, is that there's a second tragedy lurking underneath this first, highly visible one: innocent, well-meaning doctors and nurses who are being unfairly blamed for perpetuating their patients' addiction.
California Business and Professions Code 725(b) BPC makes it a crime for someone, usually a doctor, to commit repeated acts of excessively prescribing drugs. This crime is charged as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $600 and 180 days in jail.
California Health & Safety Code 11156 HS makes it a crime for a medical professional to prescribe, dispense, or administer controlled substances to a drug addict. This crime is a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony and is punishable by up to 3 years in county jail.
Either doctors or patients can commit prescription fraud in California.
California Health & Safety Code 11173 HS covers patients who engage in doctor shopping by fraud to obtain a prescription. Health & Safety Code 11153 HS covers doctors who write illegal prescriptions.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will take a closer look at the relevant laws below.
Complicated Questions Surrounding Pain and Its Treatment
Medical professionals licensed to prescribe are on the horns of a dilemma when treating severe pain in their patients.
Do they offer these opioid medications, knowing how real the possibility for abuse and addiction has become?
Or do they play it safe by assuming that everyone who walks through their practice's doors is drug-seeking? These healthcare providers can feel that they're damned if they do and damned if they don't.
We can't ignore or deny the fact that many of California's trained, licensed, and board-certified doctors and nurses have committed serious crimes by overprescribing medication, such as codeine.
In some cases, the medical professionals have slid down a slippery slope into unethical and criminal behavior, tempted by the possibility of profit.
Other times, despite their best efforts, compassionate practitioners are fooled by addicts who manage to slip through the cracks of drug-seeking screens.
Still, other doctors and nurses get it right: they prescribe painkillers appropriately, but their patients abuse the drugs and either take too many or combine them with other controlled substances.
Even if you have the very best of intentions, even if operating a pill mill is the last thing you'd ever do, it's still possible to be charged with a crime.
Potential Charges Medical Professionals Might Face
As noted above, a relatively wide range of criminal charges can be levied against medical professionals in this situation. They include but are not limited to:
- Prescribing Outside Accepted Medical Treatment Principles,
- Dispensing/Prescribing to a Drug Dependent Person,
- Willful Dispensing of a Controlled Substance without Proper Labeling,
- Delivery of or Possession with the Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance,
- Dispensing Controlled Substances with No Legitimate Medical Purpose,
- Unlawful Drug Distribution,
- Obtaining a Schedule II Controlled Substance by Fraud.
Additionally, various criminal conspiracy charges could be added to your case.
And this is to say nothing of the professional repercussions if you are accused of these crimes, let alone convicted of them.
You could lose your employment, your medical license, your reputation, and the respect of patients, colleagues, and friends.
Related California Statures
Several California laws are related to the excessive prescribing of drugs, such as the following:
- Business and Professions Code 4323 BPC – false statement to obtain a drug,
- Business and Professions Code 4324 BPC – forging a prescription,
- Health & Safety Code 11153 HS - doctors writing illegal prescriptions,
- Health & Safety Code 11154a HS – prescribing drugs without treatment,
- Health & Safety Code 11173 HS – using fraud to get prescribed drugs,
- Health & Safety Code 11368 HS – forging or altering a prescription,
- Health & Safety Code 11162.5 HS – counterfeiting a prescription blank.
Determining Liability and Responsibility Under the Law
What are the standards of criminal liability in such cases? How do the courts determine if prescriptions were appropriately justified by the legitimate pain felt by the patient, or conversely, if the medical professionals acted illegally by, effectively, “dealing drugs”?
Who is responsible for the harm done to patients who overdose on controlled substances or suffer other adverse, long-term issues—the patient who sought out treatment for their medical problem, or the white-coated practitioner who played fast-and-loose with their prescription pad?
These essential questions are incredibly nuanced and complicated.
Even though cases linking medical professionals with patient overdoses are increasing, leading to a body of case law and precedents that can be consulted for guidance, each defendant's circumstances must be carefully considered.
Just as every patient has a unique health history, set of symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, and response to treatment, so too does every situation in which federal or state prosecutors bring charges against prescribing physicians and other health care providers.
Defense of Medical Professionals
With so many factors at play, health care providers must seek an attorney who has specific experience defending doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals facing prescription-related criminal charges.
If you were accused of excessively prescribing controlled substances, contact our law firm to review the details and legal options. Based on the circumstances of the case, there are common defenses we could use in an attempt to obtain the best possible outcome.
Perhaps we can make a reasonable argument that you simply made an honest mistake, and there was a lack of criminal intent to support the charges. It might be possible to negotiate with the prosecutor for lesser charges or even a case dismissal.
Further, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate with law enforcement and the prosecution to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges in the first place.
There's a fine, often blurry line between pain and addiction on the part of patients and, on the professionals' side of the equation, between responsible pain management and the risk of feeding a possible addiction.
If that blur has landed you in legal hot water and you are being accused, audited, or investigated for potential crimes, protect your career and your future by contacting our offices for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County and serves people throughout Southern California.