PAINKILLER LAW: When Crime’s All You Look For, You See Too Many Criminals

If you wake up every morning, strap on a badge and gun and go fight the War on Drugs, you come to view the world in a certain way. If your goal for each workday is to go in peace and not come back in pieces, your perspective on society, people, crime and your role in combating evil are invariably shaped by your experience. That’s why it’s a mistake for the DEA to bring its ordinary approach against drug crime to the issue of prescription drug abuse. But that is just what the agency is doing. It is basically treating like a criminal any healthcare professional who shows up on its radar.

At the recent joint conference sponsored by the California Medical Board and Board of Pharmacy, I heard the DEA speak about rampant drug diversion, pharmacists’ widespread complicity in prescription drug abuse, doctors wantonly prescribing outside the standard of care, drug dealers in white coats, and the DEA’s determination to crack down. The problem is, no one can quantify the degree of “complicity” by the nation’s pharmacists, or durably judge when a provider is prescribing outside the standard of care. The DEA says it’s happening, and its agents are the ones with the guns, and so, well, it must be happening.

The sense of things that I had coming into the conference was unfortunately not at all changed by what I heard there. The DEA’s talk was dominated by war stories of pharmaceutical distributors selling Oxy out the back door, of pharmacists ordering more than they need and keeping lousy records of where it all went, of doctors making megabucks writing scrips for no reason, and patients visiting websites devoted to the celebration of hallucinogens. Seriously, that’s what the speaker talked about. That’s clearly not the entire scope of the issue, and those characterizations don’t fairly define all medical providers or pharmacists or patients. None the less, the DEA is bringing its habitual mindset to a new class of cases and investigations – and a new “target” population – and that’s the wrong approach.

Clearly, the DEA is in reaction mode, just as Medical Boards nationwide are, and it’s being blamed for missing the early signs of what became a prescription drug abuse crisis. In reaction to the blame, the DEA is redirecting the pressure onto doctors, pharmacists and others who the DEA thinks are responsible for whatever the agency is supposed to be trying to stop. And what exactly is to be stopped? Who should decide whether a patient needs the drugs he or she is given: The prescriber, or the federal agent? If a doctor prescribes a lot of pills to a lot of patients, does it mean he or she is operating a pill mill? If a pharmacist fills prescriptions, is the pharmacist automatically part of the problem? And if the meaning of “outside the standard of care” can’t even be succinctly articulated in the law, how are law enforcement agents to know where the line is, BEFORE they decide a practitioner or pharmacist is dirty?

These are the questions all of us must vigilantly continue asking, persistently and if need be peskily, in this latest iteration of the War on Drugs. There is no easy answer, no matter what the DEA might think.

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PAINKILLER LAW: New Drug Control Policy; Caution Urged for Prescription Painkiller Providers

Prevention and treatment of drug abuse are the new watchwords of today’s newly released National Drug Control Strategy, published by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).  While the government wants to find a workable balance between what it calls the “enforcement-centric war on drugs and the extreme position of legalization,” the MD’s, DO’s and PA’s who write prescriptions for painkillers should only expect continued and increasing government scrutiny.

I say this because the ONDCP’s emphasis on prevention and treatment is directed at the user, not the person who provides the drug to the user.  And while the ONDCP discussion largely focuses on the market for illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, the government continually talks of the perceived epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse.  The focus of government agencies like the FDA, DEA, state Medical Boards and local law enforcement is on doctors and physician’s assistants who write prescriptions for controlled substances.  Just today, in fact, the DEA raided (for the second time in several months) a Jupiter, FL Walgreens distribution center, on the theory that Walgreens may be diverting or at least failing to keep track of mass quantities of oxydocone and other opioid derivatives.  Walgreens maintains it is cooperating with federal authorities in the matter.

The lesson from these two stories is that while the end-user, in your case the patient, may benefit from the White House’s new policy imperatives, the healthcare provider writing the Schedule II painkiller prescription will continue to be under the government’s watchful eye.  Now more than at any time in memory, provider compliance with federal and state criminal laws governing the prescription and dispensing of prescription painkillers is critical to the survival of any medical practice.  The range and depth of laws to comply with is formidable, and obtaining competent and thorough legal advice on the matter is highly advisable.

Contact PAINKILLER LAW – the Meister Law Offices – at 213.293.3737 for a free consultation about Criminal Law Compliance for Healthcare Providers.  Or, email us at info@painkillerlaw.com

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PAINKILLER LAW: CRIMINAL LAW COMPLIANCE FOR HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS

From the Meister Law Offices:

Doubtless in the past several years the availability and prescription rates of pain medication such as Oxycontin and other opioid derivatives have increased dramatically. So-called “pill mills” do exist; there is likely diversion of Schedule II narcotics from manufacturers, and perhaps some pharmacies, to the black market and the street.
However, the link law enforcement is drawing between illegal activity, and the everyday legitimate professional activities of the nation’s healthcare providers, has not been established. Since the vast majority of our nation’s healthcare providers are legitimate, ethical, honest and upstanding, the link will not be established. But don’t expect that to stop the DEA or local multiagency task force from busting in on your waiting room and announcing a search warrant. There goes your practice, your reputation, and possibly your license and livelihood.

Don’t become the next sacrificial lamb in the government’s game of enforcement catch-up. Just because it’s trendy and easy to blame healthcare providers for the problem of prescription painkiller abuse, doesn’t mean you should let the government have its way in destroying everything you worked so hard to build.

The way to protect your patients, your employees, your practice and yourself is by finding out and knowing now, today, whether your practice is in compliance with applicable federal and state criminal laws governing prescription, dispensing, and distribution of Schedule II painkillers. If you are ever audited, or otherwise find yourself under investigative scrutiny, you’ll want to know that you’re ready, that your practice is in full compliance with the law, and that you’ve nothing to fear from governmental attention.

Contact the Meister Law Offices, 213.293.3737 for a free consultation, or email us at info@painkillerlaw.com.

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