As the opioid epidemic in this country shows no signs of abating, more doctors are facing prosecution and significant sentences for abusing their power to prescribe addictive and sometimes dangerous drugs. Courts have shown some division on when the number of prescriptions that doctors write for opioids and other narcotics puts them in violation of the federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA).
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the cases of two doctors who have taken their convictions, which have already been upheld on appeal, to the high court. Both doctors, whose cases are unrelated, are facing sentences of over two decades for running clinics that prosecutors argued were nothing more than “pill mills.”
One was found guilty of providing some 300,000 prescriptions over four years for controlled substances and for taking kickbacks from the maker of a fentanyl spray to prescribe it to patients. The other was accused of selling prescriptions. At least one patient who was prescribed a large amount of opioids fatally overdosed.
Should jurors consider “good faith” arguments by doctors?
The argument that attorneys for both doctors made to the Supreme Court justices was that jurors in their cases should have been instructed to consider a doctor’s “good faith” reason to believe there was a legitimate medical need for the prescriptions.
At least two justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, questioned that argument. Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that the Controlled Substance Act’s language around “legitimate medical purpose” was vague. He didn’t appear to have an issue with jurors hearing defense arguments that narcotics were prescribed in good faith – noting that they’d likely dismiss “some outlandish theory.”
The federal prosecutor arguing the government’s case before the high court said that the defendants “want to be free of any obligation even to undertake any minimal effort to act like doctors when they prescribe dangerous, highly addictive and, in one case, lethal dosages of drugs to trusting and vulnerable patients.”
It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will rule on this matter. However, one thing is certain: Charges related to the Controlled Substance Act are extremely serious. They can cost a doctor their license and their freedom. If you’re facing such charges, it’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance.