According to U.S. law enforcement authorities, we have been facing an “opioid crisis” in for over a decade. The Department of Justice has devoted extensive resources to trying to prevent overdose deaths and holding entities and individuals responsible for the opioid crises accountable. Toward this end, DOJ task forces and U.S. Attorney’s offices have intensified their efforts to pursue criminal and civil actions against those organizations and individuals throughout the prescription opioid supply chain who have allegedly committed a wrongful act.
In Florida’s Middle District, which includes Orlando, the focus of preventing the spread of opioids and reducing the supply has been bolstered by a District Opioid Coordinator, division coordinators and Opioid Fraud Prescription Abuse Unit prosecutors. Under the Controlled Substances Act, they partner with various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and task forces to investigate and prosecute doctors, pharmacists, pharmacies, and others in the supply chain.
This intense law enforcement environment has created a minefield for doctors. They must navigate very carefully when treating patients suffering from acute or chronic pain, as both state and federal agencies are aggressively targeting them and their medical practices.
If you are a doctor targeted in an investigation or you are currently facing criminal charges related to prescribing opioids, both your freedom and your license to practice medicine are at risk. You need a Florida defense attorney with experience defending doctors against prescription drug charges on your side immediately to ensure that your rights are protected.
Attorney Jonathan Rose has the knowledge, skill and experience necessary to protect your rights and mount a vigorous, aggressive defense to protect your interests. He has more than twenty years of experience as a lawyer and has focused his practice on healthcare and defense law. As a former marine and prosecutor, he knows how to navigate and fight to win complex defense cases. Call us today at 407-894-4555 or fill in the “Tell Us What Happened” form on our website to get the experienced help you need.
Prescribed Opioids and the Opioid Crisis
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids are “a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.” Opioids interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain to effectively block pain signals. Opioid pain relievers have long been prescribed legally and considered safe to use when taken as prescribed by a doctor; however, because opioids can also produce a feeling of euphoria (a “high”), they can be misused, leading to addiction, overdose and death.
Despite a concerted effort by local, state, and federal authorities to discourage the illegal and legal use of opioids throughout the nation, opioid pain medications are still legally prescribed at a relatively high rate. In 2020, the State of Florida had an opioid dispensing rate of 43.4 per 100 people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Recent figures released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also point to the ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S.:
- Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid.
- Opioid-involved overdose deaths rose significantly from 46,802 deaths in 2018 to 49,860 in 2019.
- In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids. Specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers and 745,000 people used heroin.
- One in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries received a prescription opioid in 2016.
- Emergency department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30% in all parts of the US from July 2016 through September 2017.
Due to the high rate of opioid misuse, overdoses and deaths, the U.S. Department of Justice and states across the U.S. have intensified their drug regulatory efforts and devoted increased resources to investigating and prosecuting physicians suspected of overprescribing or otherwise illegally prescribing opioids. As a result, many doctors have become the target of investigations.
Why Might a Florida Doctor Face Criminal Charges Related to Prescribing Opioids?
A licensed physician may legally prescribe a variety of opioid medications; however, there are strict federal and state guidelines that apply. These guidelines limit when opioids should be prescribed for acute pain as well as the number of days opioid pain medication can be prescribed for acute pain. They also limit who can treat chronic pain patients and impose strict rules on prescribing opioid medications on an ongoing basis for chronic pain.
If law enforcement authorities believe that a doctor has violated any of the applicable laws related to prescribing opioid pain medications, that doctor may become the target of an investigation, which can lead to criminal charges and/or disciplinary action from the Florida Board of Medicine.
At the federal level, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) makes it a crime to distribute, dispense, or possess with the intent to distribute, certain controlled substances, including opioids, outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. The State of Florida also considers it a crime to knowingly sell, purchase, manufacture, or deliver a controlled substance; however, a physician, “in good faith and in the course of his or her professional practice only, may prescribe, administer, dispense, mix, or otherwise prepare a controlled substance.” Whether a doctor’s actions fell outside the “usual course of professional practice” or were not “in good faith” provides the legal grey area that law enforcement officers and prosecutors often use to target doctors who prescribe opioids.
If you are being investigated, a qualified Florida defense attorney experienced in handling doctors’ cases can help you before you are prosecuted. Early intervention and advocacy by an experienced healthcare defense lawyer can possibly help mitigate negative consequences and help you avoid prosecution.
What Are the Consequences for a Florida Doctor Convicted of Illegally Prescribing Opioids?
If doctors are found to have prescribed opioids outside the usual course of professional practice or not in good faith, they may be prosecuted and convicted of the criminal offense of distributing a controlled substance or related crimes. The potential penalties for a conviction for distributing opioids in state or federal court depend on the type and quantity of opioid involved; however, lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines are a very real possibility.
In addition to facing a criminal conviction and the loss of your freedom, if you are a doctor accused of illegally prescribing opioids, you will also face disciplinary action against your medical license. Even if you are not convicted, you could still face disciplinary action, including anything from a public reprimand to permanent revocation of your license. That is why it is crucial to have a Florida defense attorney who also has experience successfully handling Florida medical license defense cases.
Contact an Experienced Florida Doctor Opioid Defense Lawyer
If you are a doctor and you have been targeted or charged with illegally prescribing opioids, it is imperative that you contact an experienced Florida defense lawyer with experience helping doctors defend against opioid prescription charges as soon as possible. There are numerous potential defenses that may be available to you to prevent disciplinary action and avoid a criminal conviction; however, the ability to successfully employ those defenses often depends on getting an experienced attorney involved early in an investigation and/or prosecution.
Attorney Jonathan Rose is committed to protecting doctors accused of violating opioid prescribing laws and will put his extensive experience and considerable resources to work to protect you, your rights and your future. Contact Attorney Jonathan Rose today by calling 407-894-4555 or filling out the “Tell Us What Happened” form on our website.