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 DEA War on Prescription Drugs 

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Michael Santos

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Doctors who prescribe Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, Morphine, and other Schedule II narcotic drugs get the attention of the DEA.

INTRODUCTION

Increasingly, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) targets physicians and other medical industry professionals, seeking to curb the opioid epidemic and hold people accountable. According to the CDC, from 1999–2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription opioids. The DEA’s aggressive efforts to combat the opioid crisis are poised to continue. 

Oxycodone and other opioids are highly addictive narcotics subject to regulation under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). DEA regularly makes headlines by raiding health care businesses, including pain management clinics. It also continues to go after individual doctors and other healthcare professionals who illegally prescribe opioids. Healthcare providers dealing with controlled substances (e.g., doctors, physicians’ assistants, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists) face significant criminal investigation and prosecution risks. Doctors who prescribe a lot of Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, Morphine, and other Schedule II narcotic drugs will get the attention of the DEA. 

Besides the DEA, insurance investigations can prompt criminal cases through a Medicaid fraud control unit or a state attorney general’s office. State medical boards also investigate allegations of improper prescribing. Finally, many private civil lawsuits against doctors and business owners follow an investigation, often alleging that a doctor is responsible for a patient’s addiction to opioids or was responsible for a death.

Due to the potential exposure to investigations and prosecutions, many healthcare professionals now abandon the pain management industry altogether. However, pain medicine practitioners can learn to avoid becoming the target of an investigation or facing criminal charges. Below, we recommend 5 steps industry practitioners can follow to limit their criminal exposure.

DISCUSSION

The stakes have never been higher. Today, law enforcement has zero-tolerance for anyone facilitating the illegal distribution of prescription pain medications like oxycodone. 

Doctors and other healthcare industry professionals risk charges of illegally dispensing controlled substances when they or people who work for them engage in practices outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. 

Typically, criminal cases under the CSA against pain management clinics and professionals include allegations such as:

  • unlicensed personnel writing prescriptions;
  • prescriptions for no-show patients;
  • cursory medical examinations;
  • medical records that do not corroborate the medical need for controlled substances;
  • undocumented history of patient’s substance abuse; and
  • undocumented medical justification for refills or high dosages. 

If proven, these and similar practices constitute serious violations of the CSA. In addition to drug distribution charges, criminal charges often include healthcare fraud and money laundering charges. Severe penalties follow if convicted.

Click here for a report of Montgomery Doctor’s Conviction in a CSA case. 

*Pro-Tip: Remember to consult criminal defense counsel for legal advice regarding any court case. If you have yet to hire a lawyer, call us now at 949-878-2127. We can help you vet and hire a lawyer.

Like in any investigation or prosecution, there is a range of potential outcomes in CSA criminal probes. Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) criminal defense attorneys to help clients proactively navigate through criminal investigations and prosecutions. In our experience, more well-informed and proactive clients obtain better outcomes.

5 STEPS

We recommend these 5 steps to reduce exposure to investigations or prosecutions:

  1. Be proactive. Learn the rules of the road. Study the legal and regulatory requirements for prescribing controlled substances. Attend Continuing Medical Education (CME) programs. 
  2. Carefully document the patient’s legitimate medical purpose for all Schedule II substances. Update the records regularly. Contemporaneous medical records alone can stop an investigation from going further. 
  3. Keep up with the concerns of the DEA and the statements by state boards and insurance companies. For example, if the DEA is highly concerned about patients reselling drugs, learn to spot the red flags in your practice.
  4. Speak up. If other healthcare office or pain clinic professionals are unaware of the issues discussed here, share information. Speak up if you see any of the practices red-flagged above. Entire medical offices can be affected by the reckless actions of another.
  5. If unsure, consult your colleagues. Sharing information and best practices helps everyone avoid criminal investigations.

Are you a pain management industry practitioner worried about exposure to a criminal investigation or prosecution?

Here are an additional 5 steps that can help anyone navigate that process and improve their overall outcome.

Step 1: Be Proactive & Honest

Take an honest and realistic assessment of the situation. There are many more options to deal with a potential problem at the outset of an investigation. For example, in some cases, there may be an opportunity to provide information to investigators. If an investigation is already underway, counsel may be able to work out a pre-indictment agreement. 

Step 2: Talk to Experienced Counsel & Consultants

An honest assessment may lead people to realize the need to consult a criminal defense lawyer and sentencing mitigation consultants with extensive experience with white-collar crime investigations and sentencing issues. Our team at Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works with our clients and their counsel to reduce exposure even before any criminal charges. 

*Pro-Tip: Remember to consult criminal defense counsel for legal advice regarding any court case.

Step 3: Talk to Sentencing Mitigation Consultants

Having a sentencing mitigation team from the outset of an investigation can improve likely outcomes. Many clients opt for consulting sentencing mitigation experts later in the process. Earlier is better when engaging sentencing mitigation experts. 

*Pro-Tip: Options for probation or reduced sentences are higher before sentencing and much more limited after the sentencing hearing. 

Individual clients can take significant steps to help the sentencing judge see them as worthy of leniency. Clients who take proactive measures in advance of the sentencing hearing tend to see much better outcomes. We recommend working with experienced mitigation experts on strategies for the sentencing hearing, including the presentence investigation report, as early as possible.

Step 4: Create Post-Sentencing Strategy

Even after the sentencing hearing, there are many strategies available to lower the time spent away from home in federal prison. Our team is familiar with all the Federal Bureau of Prisons jobs and programs to help inmates gain skills while incarcerated, earn programming credits, and return home sooner.

Step 5: Take Charge of Re-Entry Plans

People can bounce back from a criminal conviction and prison term. Success upon re-entry is possible. At Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, we work with clients to help them define success, set priorities and create a self-driven plan. 

A criminal investigation or prosecution can be very disruptive. However, people can and do emerge from the federal criminal justice system and rebuild their lives by executing a carefully crafted personal plan for success.

CONCLUSION

An investigation under the CSA is a serious matter with significant exposure for the people involved. Doctors who prescribe Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, Morphine, and other Schedule II narcotic drugs get the attention of the DEA. For pain management professionals, investigations and prosecutions can be personally and professionally devastating. The target of any government investigation or prosecution should be proactive to mitigate the short and long-term negative impact..

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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