William “Bill” McArthur III, a South Georgia doctor, recently pleaded guilty to violating federal drug laws as a result of his involvement in an internet pharmacy. The Macon Telegraph has the story.
Apparently, the doctor agreed to prescribe medication to patients who submitted orders via the internet or by telephone. The doctor, his father and another physician operated a “call center” in Mississippi where the orders were filled. Several discount pharmacies were also involved.
This is not the first time an internet pharmacy operation has been charged with violating federal drug laws. Our firm is currently representing a physician charged with approving certain low-level prescription drugs after reviewing and evaluating medical information submitted by patients through the internet. In our case, the government contends that doctors cannot approve any sort of controlled substance without a face-to-face physical examination of the patient. We disagree, and the case remains pending in federal court in Atlanta.
These cases can be difficult to defend because many doctors would say that the best way to determine if a patient should received a certain medication is to conduct a physical examination of that patient. The government usually calls these doctors to testify as experts in the “legitimate practice of medicine.”
The problem with the government’s theory is that it ignores reality (many people receive prescription drugs from nurses and p.a.’s without ever seeing a doctor), and it assumes that a doctor cannot get the medical information he or she needs online. That is especially true when the drugs are pills like Viagra and weight loss medications. Just because it’s not the best way to practice medicine doesn’t mean it’s a federal crime.
It looks like internet medicine cases will continue to be charged as computer crimes and/or federal drug crimes, and lawyers will continue to litigate them because there is so much money involved. In the South Georgia case, the government alleges that the business generated approximately $1.8 million.
Maybe if they had not been so successful they could have stayed under the radar. Now, the doctor is facing the loss of his ability to practice medicine, a hefty fine and up to five years in federal prison.