The federal government has a “sign your life and career away in one easy step!” form floating around out there, and the DEA is utilizing this devastating tool against medical providers in a very dangerous way. The form is called the “Voluntary Surrender” of a prescriber’s DEA registration number. All healthcare professionals, especially providers, need to be extra vigilant and prepared in the event the form is shoved in front of you by a raid-jacketed agent who greets you with a search warrant, chambered Sig Sauer and ballpoint pen. The “Voluntary Surrender” form isn’t voluntary, and you don’t have to surrender.
The DEA registration number, as you know, is what authorizes a physician or osteopath or nurse practitioner (depending on which State) to prescribe Schedule II through V controlled substances. Without the registration number, you can’t write. So ponder the following scenario:
A medical provider who has no idea she is under criminal investigation for her prescribing practices is hit with a search warrant by state and federal investigators. The Feds are DEA. The provider’s offices are searched for hours. Eventually a DEA agent presents the provider with the Voluntary Surrender form. The agent says that if the provider doesn’t sign immediately, the DEA will move to revoke the registration. The provider, bewildered and frightened, signs.
In an instant, the provider’s life and practice have changed for the worse, maybe irrevocably. The form and the DEA-promulgated rules and court cases around it say that (a) the provider is surrendering the registration “voluntarily,” no matter how freaked out the provider may have been during the encounter, (b) the provider agrees that by signing the form, she is “resolving” any official concerns that gave rise to her being asked to sign – in other words, she’s all but admitting that the government is right – and (c) the provider’s signature waives any administrative hearing rights to try and keep the registration and fight the DEA’s effort to pull it.
Signing the form makes this all a done deal, and a provider will have to apply for a new registration, which may or may not be granted. There’s no argument to be made that the form was signed under duress, because the form is worded to say all was hunky-dory when the provider signed it. There is no administrative hearing that can be granted afterward, as I stated. There is, in short, a dreadful finality to signing a form that is shown to you under the worst of circumstances, with a demand that it be signed on the spot, or whatever’s worse will happen.
The PAINKILLER LAW rule for all providers who are given this form: Don’t sign it! And absolutely never, ever consider signing without first consulting with counsel at length. What’s the worst the DEA can do, except exactly what the agents will tell you, which is that they’ll immediately move to have the registration number revoked? So make them meet their burden! Don’t capitulate in an instant under circumstances they cynically and laughably characterize as voluntary. Demand an administrative hearing. They’ll want to hit you back, but so what? They’re already upset; it’s not like you’ll walk away best pals and they’ll leave you alone forever if you’ll just sign the form. And at a hearing, you may win! But whatever the outcome, at least you’re fighting!
This situation is relevant to all medical providers today, as the government at every level and in new and very hazardous and heavy-handed ways desperately seeks ways to “do something” about the national problem of prescription drug abuse. It’s critical for all providers to be ready, “in shape,” if you will, for these emergency situations that are designed to take an unsuspecting healthcare professional by surprise and take advantage of bewilderment, fear, and naivete. Don’t be the next remorseful signer of a voluntary surrender. Be ready, be steady, get your lawyer there, and fight for your rights.
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