Providing patients with medications for controlling their pain when they suffer an injury or after surgery is an important duty of a doctor. In some cases, this involves prescribing powerful narcotic and opioid drugs. The main pain-relieving drug in these prescriptions are opium and codeine. While these drugs can relieve pain, they come with serious consequences. Patients can become addicted to these drugs. In addition, the prescribing of these medications can lead to a patient’s drug overdose and death.
Overuse of powerful opioids, such as Dilaudid, Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin (oxycodone), has become a national crisis and is regularly discussed in the news. This has led to an increased focus and to the prosecution of doctors who prescribe these medications to their patients. In some cases, physicians who prescribe these medications can be unfairly charged with committing a crime. These charges can be extremely serious and have long-term consequences on a doctor’s life—such as loss of his medical license, dramatically higher insurance premiums, loss of employment, and a permanent criminal record. If you have been charged with a crime associated with prescribing pain medications, our experienced criminal defense attorneys are here to help you build a strong defense that may result in the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.
Four Common Types of Activities That May Lead to Criminal Charges
In 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced the creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit that is dedicated to both combatting opioid drug abuse and prosecuting physicians and other medical care providers who facilitate this drug abuse. Red flags that may result in a doctor being investigated include a high number of opioid prescriptions per patient, a high percentage of prescriptions for drugs that are commonly abused, such as Percocet and oxycodone, and patients who have died within 60 days of being prescribed opioids. Common types of prescription abuse that may lead to charges include:
- Drug diversion. This involves a doctor working with patients and prescribing prescriptions for opioid drugs that have a high value if sold on the street. The patient then sells them to others or to drug dealers on the black market.
- Doctor shopping. Some addicted patients will engage in doctor shopping where they obtain the same or similar opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors. Some innocent physicians will have no idea that they are contributing to a patient’s doctor shopping when giving him a prescription for an opioid painkiller.
- Incentives. Another type of prescription abuse involves a patient paying a doctor a kickback, bribe, or other financial incentive to write him a prescription for an opioid or other narcotic. In addition, a pharmacy and doctor may be involved in illegal activities if the pharmacy pays the doctor a kickback for steering patients to the pharmacy to fill their prescriptions for controlled substances.
- Inappropriate dispensing. In inappropriate dispensing schemes, the pharmacy may prescribe expired or altered prescriptions to patients. If the doctor knew of this practice and encouraged patients to go to the pharmacy, he may face charges as well.
Common Criminal Charges Doctors Can Face for Prescription Fraud
Because of the focus on the opioid epidemic, federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors are aggressively investigating and charging doctors with prescription drug charge fraud crimes. In addition, doctors can also be charged under similar Virginia drug crime offenses. Common federal charges that doctors may face include:
- Drug trafficking. If a doctor knowingly and intentionally prescribed controlled substances not for a legitimate medical purpose and not in the course of his usual medical practice, he can be charged with drug trafficking. Doctors who are accused of operating a drug mill are often charged with this crime. A drug mill is a doctor, pharmacy, or clinic that prescribes opioids and other powerful painkillers for no legitimate medical purpose or who ignores some of the red flags of a patient engaged in doctor shopping when prescribing these drugs.
- Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. When more than one person is involved in the prescription drug fraud, a doctor may be charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) which prohibits racketeering activities as part of a criminal enterprise, including drug trafficking.
- Health care fraud. It is unlawful for a doctor to defraud a health care provider or to obtain money or property under false pretenses from a health care provider. Doctors who are accused of overprescribing to Medicare and Medicaid patients may be charged with this crime.
- Anti-Kickback Act. It is a crime under the Anti-Kickback Act to pay or provide anything of value in an effort to obtain referrals or business related to a federal health care program.
Penalties for Prescription Fraud Are Serious
If you are a doctor facing federal or state prescription drug fraud charges, you are almost certainly being charged with serious felony crimes. Your precise penalty if convicted would depend on the charges and the classification of the felony you were found guilty of committing. However, a conviction may result in a long prison sentence, hefty fines, loss of your professional license and your career, and much more.
You need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in defending against both federal and state charges in these cases. Start an online chat or call our office today to learn how we will aggressively fight to have the charges against you dismissed or reduced to the least serious offense possible.