Federal prosecutors continue to crack down on doctors who unlawfully distribute controlled substances. While typically exempt from prosecution for the distribution of drugs, doctors can find themselves on the wrong side of the law when their actions are not for legitimate medical purposes and within the usual course of their medical practice.
Courts typically engage in a case-by-case analysis to determine whether a doctor’s prescribing has crossed the line. Questionable practices can include patients traveling long distances while bypassing numerous other physicians; overlapping prescriptions; early refills; excessive number of patient visits in one day; no alternative treatments for patients; contra-indicated prescriptions; continued increases in the number of doses or drug strength for majority of patients; or the writing of split prescriptions to conceal excessive amounts, often with advice to go to multiple pharmacies.
A recent string of cases brought by the U.S. Department of Justice provides a glimpse into the type of conduct that has led to convictions of medical professionals.
- A doctor from Hurricane, West Virginia, was convicted at trial in August 2020 of 17 counts of distribution of controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. Jurors heard evidence that Dr. Ricky Houdersheldt, D.O., prescribed a patient the dangerous combination of morphine and fentanyl; prescribed dosages of opioids that were seven times higher than recommended by the CDC; and provided a woman opioid prescriptions in parking lots in order to establish a sexual relationship with her.
- Dr. Morris Brown of Dayton, Ohio, was convicted earlier this year after admitting to prescribing opioids to his patients while ignoring red flags. He offered early refills, his patients travelled far distances to see him, and multiple members of the same family would often receive prescriptions. In addition, Dr. Brown prescribed dangerous combinations of drugs (opioids and benzodiazepines) that were known to increase the risk of overdose and death. Brown, 75 years old, faces 46-57 months in prison when sentenced.
- Scotty Akers, M.D., of Pikeville, Kentucky, and Serissa Akers – his wife/office assistant – were convicted in August for their roles in the unlawful distribution of narcotics. Dr. Akers wrote prescriptions for opioids without conducting physical exams of the patients and then his wife would exchange the scripts for cash in parking lots.
- An 83-year old psychiatrist from Memphis, Tennessee, was sentenced in October to 48 months in prison after being convicted at trial of distributing drugs outside the scope of his professional practice. Dr. Richard Farmer had prescribed large amounts of opioids to three sisters with whom he had sexual contact. Despite clear signs of addiction, Dr. Farmer continued to provide them with painkillers while failing to keep regular patient files. He also provided prescriptions for friends of the sisters without conducting medical exams.
A conviction for improper prescribing can lead to incarceration, substantial financial penalties and the loss of one’s license to practice medicine. Bowles Rice has a team of former federal prosecutors dedicated to the vigorous defense of physicians, pharmacists, dentists and other licensed health professionals in criminal cases as well as licensing board proceedings and compliance issues. If you are the subject of an investigation or an indictment, call the Bowles Rice White Collar Defense Team today at (304) 347-1137.