The Problem of Doctors Fueling Prescription Abuse

One of the most touching moments in medical school graduation ceremonies is when the newly minted doctors take an oath to make patient well-being their top priority. While most remain committed to this goal throughout their practice, a few do not.

A Repeat Offender - A Podiatrist Convicted of Selling Prescriptions in 2008 Faces Similar Charges in 2014

We could fill a book with stories of medical professionals selling prescriptions or prescription medication, but one recent case from California stands out. As detailed by the San Jose Mercury News, a podiatrist is facing charges he sold prescriptions. This case is particularly egregious because the doctor had previously been convicted of selling illegal narcotic prescriptions back in 2008. At that time, he received a 65-day jail sentence, was placed on probation for 5 years, and had his medical license placed on a 7-year probationary status.

The doctor is currently facing two counts of similar charges. According to the local District Attorney, the podiatrist signed more than 5,000 prescriptions over the last year, primarily for highly addictive narcotic pain medications, muscle relaxers, and anxiety medications. In June, an FBI agent posed as a patient and went to the doctor's office. Despite not examining the agent and not asking medical questions, the doctor wrote the agent a prescription for narcotics (100 pills of Norco, also sold under the name Vicodin) and a muscle relaxant (Soma).

The agent was charged $65 and told (again, without asking questions of the patient or performing an exam) he had plantar fasciitis, a heel problem. The agent returned within a month's time and brought a "friend" (an undercover deputy). Dr. Nguyen said he couldn't give the agent a refill so soon, but wrote the new patient prescriptions for the same medicines. Once again, there was no physical exam. The doctor told both "patients" to limp on their way out of the office.

Prescribers, Prescriptions, Pills - A Potentially Dangerous Trio

In prior decades, the problem of drug abuse was primarily about street drugs like heroin and cocaine. Today, the problem has transformed and drug abuse increasingly involves prescription medications. The epidemic takes many forms. News reports may mention teens stealing pills from a parent's medicine cabinet, patients becoming hooked on pills after an injury, and people selling pills on the street. Doctors should play a key part in the fight against prescription abuse and many do (see this New Yorker article from November 2013 for one doctor's reflections on how the pain pill epidemic impacts medical practice). However, as the case above demonstrates, some doctors are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

From Penalties to Protecting Patients

There are a number of avenues for dealing with doctors who misuse their prescription powers and fuel the prescription drugs misuse/overuse problem. Doctors may face criminal penalties or may see their right to practice limited or withdrawn entirely. Civil claims are another important tool. As in other arenas, civil claims can compensate the victims of doctors who fuel prescription misuse. Civil claims, especially when publicized, also warn would-be-perpetrators that the offense will be taken seriously and make overprescribing much less profitable.

As we noted in our prior discussion of these issues, personal responsibility is incredibly important and a belief in accountability fuels all areas of our firm's practice. However, people should be able to count on their doctors to provide good medical services and counseling. When doctors fuel a dangerous drug epidemic, they violate our trust and endanger the patient and his/her love ones (such as a child left without care because a parent becomes hooked on an irresponsibly prescribed medicine).

If a doctor or other medical professional irresponsibly prescribed pills or otherwise contributed to pill misuse and you or a loved one was harmed, you may have a claim. Call us today to learn more.

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