The Department of Justice has stepped up its efforts to combat the so-called “opiate crisis” in recent years, increasing its investigation and prosecution of doctors, pharmacists, drug manufacturers and distributors it links to drug diversion. Today, it released information about dozens of doctors, pharmacists, and others accused of running “pill mills” or illegally distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.
The medical prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances, particularly opiates in Schedule II, is heavily regulated by both federal and state law. There are many laws in the United States Code, Code of Federal Regulations, and also advisory opinions from federal agencies to learn and follow.
Practitioners must not only navigate these federal laws, but also the Texas statutes governing the practicing of medicine, pharmacy, and drugs, as well as state regulations found in the Texas Administrative Code, and the dictates of the Texas Medical Board and State Board of Pharmacy.
Pain management is a particular target of increasing scrutiny and regulation. Running afoul of these often times confusing and seemingly confusing regulations has landed more than one well-meaning professional in hot water.
Although increased enforcement is occurring nationwide, Houston is a hot-bed because of its large population and the reportedly high use and abuse of the drugs involved in the so-called “Houston Cocktail.”
Prosecutors and regulators have numerous tools at their disposal to investigate and enforce the law against suspected or accused pill mill operators. They can initiate civil or regulatory investigations that may result in substantial financial penalties and or licensing difficulties for doctors and pharmacists with their governing boards or the DEA to stop them practicing medicine or pharmacy or remove their prescribing or dispensing authority. They may also file criminal charges. These may even come after or even at the same time as civil or administrative remedies.
Criminal prosecution can have life altering effects on the accused and result in imprisonment, fines, restitution, and forfeiture of assets. A felony conviction may result in the loss of a professional license.
They may allege violations of the Controlled Substances Act, as well as conspiracy, health care, fraud, and money laundering. The tools at their disposal are vast and far reaching.
As today’s news shows, more and more doctors, pharmacists, and their employees are at risk and finding themselves in courtrooms defending their lives and their livelihoods.
However, every defendant is presumed innocent and every acquittal starts with a felony indictment.