Medical Professionals Face Drug Charges Over Questionable Prescriptions
Although most people associate drug crimes with the distribution of illegal narcotics like cocaine or heroin, in fact a person can also be charged with improperly distributing legal prescription drugs as well. This includes licensed medical providers. If a doctor or other health care professional dispenses a prescription drug to someone without a legitimate medical need, that professional can be charged with illegal distribution of a controlled substance.
Alabama Nurse Practitioner Receives 12 Years in Federal Prison
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Akwuba, provides a case in point. Here, the federal government charged a licensed nurse practitioner with participating in a so-called pill mill. The defendant was one of 15 people indicted by the government in connection with this particular operation.
At trial, the prosecution presented evidence from three expert witnesses, each of whom reviewed files for specific patients treated by the defendant. The experts told the jury that based on their review, the defendant had issued prescriptions that were not “for legitimate medical purposes.” The defense argued the experts had reviewed “incomplete records” and thus their opinions were unreliable. The jury believed the experts, however, and found the defendant guilty of conspiring to distribute (and distributing) controlled substances, and conspiring to commit health care fraud. The trial judge then sentenced the defendant to 12 years in prison.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit upheld the defendant’s conviction and sentence. The appellate court specifically rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence against her was insufficient because there was no evidence that “the patients to whom she prescribed the controlled substances did not actually need them.” In other words, none of the defendant’s patients actually testified they received prescription drugs that were medically unnecessary,
The 11th Circuit said such evidence was unnecessary to support the defendant’s conviction. Indeed, the was not a required “element of the offense” of distributing a controlled substance. Even if the patients had testified that they needed or benefited from the prescription drugs, a jury could still infer that the defendant acted outside the “usual course of professional practice” in prescribing them. More to the point, the appellate court pointed to testimony offered by the defendant’s co-workers that established she was handing out questionable or potentially unnecessary prescriptions.
Contact Orlando Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
Especially in the wake of the ongoing opioid crisis, federal prosecutors are more motivated than ever to find healthcare professionals who can be held responsible for handing out medically unnecessary prescriptions. And individual providers may find themselves caught up in larger investigations where they face enormous pressure to plead guilty to serious criminal charges or provide evidence to the government against others.
If you find yourself in such a situation, you need to work with a qualified Orlando criminal defense attorney who will look out for your best interests. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our drug crimes legal defense team.