Prescription Painkiller Abuse Is Causing Care Providers to Be Targeted Unfairly
The United States is very much in the midst of a serious opioid crisis, and so much of the blame is being directed at doctors.
Late last year, the Department of Justice announced a major initiative to target doctors, pharmacists, and medical services companies with criminal prosecution — all in response to the opioid crisis.
“If you are a doctor illegally prescribing opioids for profit or a pharmacist letting these pills walk out the door … we are coming after you,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in announcing the new effort last August.” We will reverse these devastating trends with every tool we have.”
Indeed, prosecutors have a great many tools available to them, and health care providers in this country should expect them to be more aggressive than ever while the opioid crisis keeps getting worse.
This includes everyone from pharmacists and physicians to nurses and business owners in the medical world.
If you work in the health care industry, you should remain extremely vigilant. Understanding how these investigations begin and transpire can help you to avoid being targeted unfairly in an overbroad opioid crisis crackdown.
How Is the Government Investigating Suspected “Pill Mills” During the Opioid Crisis?
Law enforcement stings, arrests, and takedowns come in aggressive waves — faster, fiercer, and more frequent in recent years as the opioid crisis continues to grow more severe.
Investigations usually begin with a red flag from a federal monitoring system. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has set up a number of monitoring programs that are designed to spot potential pill mill activity and alert agents to the need for further investigation.
In other cases, the triggering event could be a billing dispute, a discrepancy discovered during a routine audit, an anonymous community tip (perhaps from a vengeful former employee), or a civil ZPIC investigation in which federal contractors share their findings with the DEA or other federal law enforcement agencies.
Whatever prompts the heightened scrutiny, once DEA agents’ suspicion has been aroused, they’ll usually begin by reviewing your practice’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program records (PDMP), even though the information in those records will tell them next to nothing about your patients, their conditions, or the medical necessity of their prescriptions.
If they find anything irregular in those records — and sure enough, they’ll often find something to raise an eyebrow over — the agents will proceed to a full-blown investigation, which you may not even know is happening.
In a typical case, DEA agents (perhaps working with other federal officers) will reach out to state or local law enforcement and set up surveillance around you and your practice.
The investigation might involve undercover agents. The patients you’re trying to treat in good faith, for example, could be moles “hired and wired” by the government to catch you writing an opioid or prescription pain relief prescription despite a planted red flag.
For instance, the “patient” might present to you with a recent history of severe pain and symptoms consistent with a reasonable, medically justifiable opioid prescription. But they might also mention something the government considers a red flag, for example:
- Asking to pay in cash
- Mentioning that they live across the state line
- Letting you know they’ve seen other doctors for the same issue
- Using “street names” for the drug they want you to prescribe
All the while, the patient could be recording you without your knowledge — even if your state doesn’t allow undisclosed recording of conversations (if the agents are working with probable cause or a warrant, as they often are).
The hammer tends to fall fast from there. Even though these are all comments that can seem harmless or unremarkable in casual conversation, and the doctor might think nothing of it, a secretly recorded conversation with an undercover agent may allow the government to quickly build a case against you and your practice.
How a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer for Doctors and Providers Can Help
If you believe you are under investigation in connection with the opioid crisis, or if you have already been indicted on controlled substances or health care fraud charges, you must act quickly to protect your interests and defend your freedom. There is no time to waste, and the potential consequences are entirely too steep to trust anyone but the experienced attorneys in these complex and highly specific legal matters.
Oberheiden, P.C. is a federal law criminal defense law firm with a long track record of protecting doctors, pharmacists, and medical professionals from aggressive prosecutorial tactics. Our experienced lawyers include:
- Nick Oberheiden: founding attorney of our firm, with a significant number of health care criminal matter victories to his credit. Dr. Oberheiden has successfully represented numerous doctors, pharmacies, laboratories, executives, and public figures on DEA, DOJ, controlled substances, health care fraud, pill mill, and other charges.
- Lynette Byrd: former Assistant U.S. Attorney (Health Care Fraud Section).
- Elizabeth Stepp: over 20 years of litigation and appellate experience, following her education at Yale Law School.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Oberheiden, P.C. to Discuss Pill Mills Charges
The national opioid crisis ensures that health care providers can expect even greater, more aggressive crackdowns in the near future. Don’t face the federal government alone. Whether you need good advice or an active defense, please contact Oberheiden, P.C. for a free consultation right away. Call (888) 727-0472.
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