In 2020, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) targeted doctors in New York and elsewhere for conspiring to illegally write prescriptions for oxycodone and other opioids. Expect this trend to carry on into 2021, as the DEA will continue to focus its efforts on investigating and prosecuting doctors that prescribe oxycodone.
Oxycodone is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, which means it has a high potential for abuse and can cause severe psychological or physical dependence. A spike in opioid-related deaths has resulted in increased scrutiny from federal law enforcement agents, regulatory agencies, and state medical boards.
As part of the U.S. Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Initiative, the DEA, District Attorneys, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies have mounted a full-out attack on the illegal prescription of oxycodone and other narcotics. In their effort to combat the opioid epidemic, the DEA has targeted doctors who prescribe oxycodone, painting them as “pill mill doctors” and “drug dealers.”
Doctors who prescribe oxycodone can find themselves charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Section 841, and are often lumped in with street-level drug dealers. While opioid prescription medications carry a significant risk of harm when they are used inappropriately, oxycodone and other prescription strength painkillers are among the most effective drugs for treating and managing chronic pain and are an important tool that doctors commonly use to treat pain.
“Pill mill” is a term used by law enforcement agencies and now the media to describe a medical doctor who is accused of issuing prescriptions for pain management drugs such as oxycodone and other opioids without a legitimate medical purpose or outside the scope of their professional medical practice. Pain management doctors and other physicians who prescribe oxycodone, opioids, and other pain management drugs may find themselves unfairly described as “pill mill doctors” and targeted for investigation and prosecution by federal law enforcement authorities.
To target “pill mill doctors” the government identifies so-called “red flags.” These are often perfectly legal activities, such as patients who travel long distances to see a particular medical provider, or who pay cash for a prescription. There are often perfectly reasonable explanations for these activities, yet the government claims doctors and other healthcare professionals are not concerned about the welfare of their patients, but instead are just interested in making money. Pharmacies often report irregular prescribing practices to the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”), too.
As a result of seeing doctors targeted for federal investigation, many physicians find themselves conflicted over whether, when, and how to prescribe oxycodone and other opioids. On one hand, they have a duty to their patients to relieve pain and suffering. On the other, some patients develop drug dependency on pain medications which can lead to addiction and abuse of oxycodone and other opioids and pain medications.
Physicians, of course, are responsible for carefully and conscientiously prescribing oxycodone and other opioids. This responsibility is heightened in the case of opioids, and medical providers face serious penalties for inappropriate prescribing, including charges and prosecution for conspiracy and other drug crimes.
The DEA is tasked, among other things, with enforcing the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), a federal law that prohibits the illegal manufacture and distribution of drugs, including prescription drugs like oxycodone and other opioids.
Under the CSA, it is “unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally...manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.” Conspiracy to do so is also a criminal offense.
Doctors who have a certificate of registration to issue a valid prescription “for a legitimate medical purpose” are exempt from the CSA. However, physicians who issue prescriptions outside of their authority or for an illegitimate purpose can be charged and prosecuted for violating the CSA.
To be convicted of violating the CSA, a physician must have prescribed a controlled substance: (1) knowingly; (2) without a legitimate medical purpose; and (3) outside the course of professional practice.
Prosecuting a doctor for violations of the CSA requires that the DEA make determinations about when the purpose for prescribing oxycodone or another opioid became illegitimate, when it exceeded the bounds of the doctor’s usual practice, and the extent to which the alleged violations warrant criminal liability.
Unfortunately, defending against a federal investigation is burdensome and time consuming. An investigation alone can have detrimental consequences for a doctor’s reputation and practice. Often when DEA or FBI Agents visit a physician’s office, the first thing they do is request that the doctor “voluntarily” surrender his/her DEA license. Doing so can have devastating consequences upon the physician’s ability to reapply for DEA licensure in the future. Without a DEA license, most physicians can no longer practice medicine. It is essential that you contact a highly experienced federal criminal lawyer immediately if federal agents have contacted you.
Punishments for violating the CSA include significant monetary penalties and lengthy jail time. If a patient dies as a result of an overdose of oxycodone or another opioid, a physician could face charges for death resulting from drug distribution. Conviction for these crimes carry an additional enhancement of a mandatory 20 year prison sentence.
In addition to criminal liability, physicians who are charged with or convicted of a violation of the CSA face the loss of their authorization to prescribe controlled substances.
If you are under investigation or have been charged with illegally distributing oxycodone, conspiracy to illegally distribute opioids, or are facing other “pill mill” charges, you need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer on your side. Hope Lefeber should be your first call.
Federal criminal defense attorney Hope Lefeber has been defending people against federal drug crime charges for more than 30 years. She is well-known and highly respected by her colleagues in the federal bar, federal judges, and her clients. She has earned a reputation as a fierce defender of her clients’ rights, and has successfully represented people who have been charged with drug trafficking, conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute, and distribution.
Ms. Lefeber is meticulous in her preparation, and will carefully investigate every piece of evidence the government intends to use to try to convict you. She frequently works with forensic consultants, investigators, and other experts to identify inconsistencies in the government’s case.
When your livelihood, professional reputation, and career are on the line and you are facing the prospect of hefty fines and jail time, you need a fierce and tenacious criminal defense attorney on your side. Look no further than Hope Lefeber.
Learn more about attorney Hope Lefeber, read about her legal victories and testimonials from other clients she has helped, then contact Hope Lefeber today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.