The United States has a drug problem, but the near-hysteria regarding opioid prescriptions has put many legitimate pain clinics and pain doctors under a microscope where their every action is (often unfairly) scrutinized.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ruan v. United States has recently raised the bar, however, when it comes to prosecuting doctors for “overprescribing” pain medications based on their heartfelt assessments of their patients’ medical needs.
What brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court?
The Ruan case actually involved two physicians who were sentenced to decades apiece in prison for, in essence, operating “pill mills” by dispensing prescriptions for opioids outside of their usual dosages.
Through jury instructions, the trial court had denied the physicians the ability to present a “good-faith” defense based on the idea that they had issued the prescriptions for what they believed were legitimate reasons. Expert witnesses in the case, which were relied upon by the government to make their case, simply testified that the dosages were not in line with what another “reasonable” physician would do.
After their initial appeals failed, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and the justices unanimously agreed that both cases should be remanded back to the lower courts for reconsideration.
What does this mean for doctors accused of overprescribing?
According to the Supreme Court, prosecutors now have a higher burden of proof in order to win a conviction against medical providers in these situations. Not only must they prove that the dosages were outside the norm, but that the prescriptions were given “knowingly or intentionally” without a medical purpose.
Essentially, this helps draw a line between doctors who are truly operating “pill mills” for profit and doctors who are just honestly trying to provide appropriate care to patients in pain. Given that there’s a lot of debate about what kind of pain relief is best for any given situation, this opens the door to a more robust defense if you’re a doctor accused of a drug crime.
If you’re a physician who is accused of overprescribing, it’s time to revisit the defense options available to you. Learn more about your legal options today when you content a criminal defense attorney.