Overprescribing (Aka “Pill Mill”) Cases

In the last few years, the federal Government has focused a great deal of attention on the prosecution of pain management doctors. In fact, recently, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced that federal prosecutors and federal agents are ramping up criminal investigations and prosecutions of so-called “pill-mills” in metro Atlanta.

Since that statement was made, federal prosecutors in Atlanta have secured indictments against doctors and others, claiming that these individuals have violated federal controlled substance laws. In addition, the situation concerning these federal criminal cases against doctors is not unique to Atlanta, Georgia. Federal prosecutors throughout the United States have obtained indictments and convictions against doctors involving allegations of over-prescribing. As recent cases from a number of federal districts demonstrate, the doctors convicted in these cases not only lose the right to practice medicine but they also, quite frequently, receive significant prison sentences, including sentences of life imprisonment. This is because the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and the relevant federal statutes contain provisions that enhance the sentence that a doctor receives in these federal criminal cases based upon a number of factors, including the quantity and type of the prescription drugs at issue.

In the last several years, we have represented a number of doctors in alleged overprescribing cases in a number of federal districts. Typically, the federal government prosecutes doctors under 18 U.S.C. § 841, which is the exact same federal statute that the Government uses to prosecute individuals with cocaine, heroin, and other controlled substance offenses. In addition, prosecutors often add other charges, including charges under the federal health care fraud statute, as well as the federal money laundering statutes. Unlike federal drug cases that do not involve doctors, however, when the federal government brings a case against a doctor for alleged over-prescribing it must prove, among other things, that the prescriptions at issue were written “outside the usual course of professional practice and without legitimate medical purpose.” The resolution of this important issue often depends upon expert testimony. Not surprisingly, the experts that the Government uses, quite often, take a very conservative view of what legitimate pain management physicians should be permitted to prescribe. For this reason, once an individual learns that he or she is under investigation for alleged over-prescribing, it is essential to retain an experienced federal criminal attorney right away to evaluate the situation, and, if appropriate, consult with a qualified expert who is capable of evaluating the medical legitimacy of the prescriptions at issue. As noted, in the last few years, we have handled a number of alleged over-prescribing cases in a number of federal districts.

Just as we are seeing more overprescribing cases, we also see more situations where the federal authorities seize the property of our doctor clients well before a criminal indictment is ultimately filed. We regularly see cases where investigators come in and seize the computers, files and property related to a medical practice, along with sometimes freezing the doctor’s bank accounts. As one can imagine, when the bank accounts of a legitimate business are seized, it can literally cripple a business, and displace patients who legitimately need medical care. We have been handling cases of this nature for a number of years, but in recent years, cases like this are becoming even more prevalent. If you have a matter concerning over-prescribing that you would like to discuss with us, feel free to contact us at (404) 658-9070.

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