The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been ramping up its efforts to prosecute doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses who they say are contributing to the opioid crisis by operating “pill mills.”
In some cases, that’s undoubtedly true. There have been instances of doctors and nurses who have been willing to exchange cash for drugs and write prescriptions for whatever anybody asks them for — without any medical need.
However, it’s easy for a doctor or nurse practitioner these days to get unfairly caught up in the efforts of the DEA to punish anyone who might be connected to the opioid crisis. Essentially, if you’re a doctor or nurse practitioner — or even a nurse who handles the billing — in an office that sees patients for chronic pain, you could be held liable for things like being fooled by a drug-seeking patient who put on a very believable act or a patient who overdosed because they didn’t follow the prescriber’s instructions on their medication.
Take, for example, the case of a Texas doctor who is now serving prison time for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances (known in legal terms as drug trafficking) and fraud. Over a seven-year period, several of the doctor’s patients suffered overdoses. The doctor was ultimately held responsible because the DEA determined that he was prescribing medication without a “legitimate need.”
Here’s the problem: The DEA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are making decisions about when a doctor is treating a legitimate need and when they aren’t. Pain is a very subjective thing, so trying to decide what a patient needs to control their pain without examining and treating that patient isn’t fair to either doctor or patient. In addition, doctors shouldn’t be held responsible when patients accidentally overdose if they aren’t following their dosage instructions.
There’s no doubt that there’s a drug problem in the United States. There’s also no doubt that the DEA and DOJ are targeting doctors and other medical professionals because a few bad actors have caused many other doctors to be treated like suspected drug traffickers.
If you’re targeted in an investigation because of a patient’s overdose, you could be facing drug trafficking charges. Contact our office for more information and to discuss your situation.