Federal prosecutors send warning notices about opioids to local doctors
Federal prosecutors announced yesterday that they have sent letters to 30 doctors in the metro Atlanta and North Georgia area, putting them “on notice” that the federal government believes they are prescribing too much pain medication.
While the government describes this as a “notice,” this is really a warning to these doctors that they risk criminal prosecution, and a career-ending conviction, if the government believes they are prescribing opioids without a legitimate medical purpose.
Now that these doctors are on the federal government’s “radar,” it is important for them to know how aggressively the federal government has been pursuing these types of cases in recent years. The basis of these claims is usually that a doctor intentionally prescribed controlled substances to people who didn’t legitimately need them, essentially using their prescription pads to distribute illegal drugs.
Of course, many of these doctors prescribe a lot of pain medicine simply because they have many patients who are experiencing chronic pain. There are millions and millions of Americans seeking relief from their chronic pain every day, and many doctors run perfectly valid practices addressing the needs of these patients. Unfortunately, the government’s aggressive stance now means that a high volume of prescriptions alone can motivate prosecutors to file charges.
The government usually begins by hiring a medical expert to study a targeted doctor’s patient charts, though this expert is usually a “hired-gun” who will find what the government wants them to find—that the doctor was prescribing opioids to folks who didn’t need them or who had a high potential for abuse. The government has also been known to use undercover informants to pose as phony patients and to try to obtain prescriptions from these doctors.
In some cases, federal prosecutors even try to hold doctors accountable for the overdose deaths of people who take too many of the opioids they’ve prescribed. These “death counts” come with much higher mandatory minimum sentences, and are often used by the prosecution to pressure doctors to plead guilty, even when the evidence against them is weak. This aggressive posture by the government turns what should be medical malpractice cases into a full-blown federal prosecutions.
While we can all agree that overdoses are tragic, we should not be so quick lock up our doctors. Most doctors are doing their best to address their patients’ legitimate needs. Our firm has represented and currently represents several doctors facing these kinds of charges, and we have had success handling these allegations for our physicians and other healthcare professionals. We’ve seen firsthand how the government can cast too wide a net that ensnares innocent doctors, and we know how to combat these charges and win.
If you have received one of these letters from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or if you believe you may be the target of a federal investigation, don’t hesitate to contact our firm. Our attorneys are ready to fight for you and protect your livelihood.
Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of our firm’s “The Federal Docket” and a contributor to Mercer Law Review’s Annual Survey in the areas of federal law. Tom was named a “Top 40 Under 40” lawyer by The National Trial Lawyers, and is a recognized expert in federal sentencing law. He graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.