PILL MILL CHARGES
We defend physicians and other medical professionals against “pill mill” charges
Federal prosecutors from the DEA and FBI are aggressively filing pill mill charges against doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals who treat patients suffering from chronic pain.
Our attorneys have successfully represented a number of doctors in these so-called “pill mill” cases across the country. We have assisted doctors in avoiding felony charges in alleged “pill mill” cases, and have won “not guilty” decisions for other physicians who were looking at criminal charges for illegally prescribing or over-prescribing controlled substances.
“Pill Mill” Defined
The term “pill mill” is used by law enforcement agencies to refer to a medical clinic or doctor’s office that is allegedly in the practice of distributing pain medication (opioids, usually) without a legitimate medical purpose or outside the normal course of a professional medical practice. In short, the perception is that a “pill mill” is more concerned with making money off drugs than with helping patients.
How Does the Government Recognize a Pill Mill?
In deciding if they should target a clinic or doctor’s office in a “pill mill” investigation, law enforcement agents often look for tell tale signs that suggest a medical clinic is functioning as a “pill mill.” That said the “red flags” can also be activity that is perfectly legal.
If a pain clinic has a lot of younger patients travelling from long distances, for example, the Government might suspect that the clinic is a “pill mill.” That said, both young and old patients can suffer from chronic pain.
Thanks to the DEA’s tactics in such cases, legitimate chronic pain patients are having great difficulty obtaining treatment closer to where they live. Indeed, doctors are often reluctant to prescribe narcotic pain medications for fear they will be the next target of an overzealous DEA. As a result of the DEA’s aggressive pursuit of pain clinics, fewer pain clinics exist in the country, while the number of patients with chronic pain grows.
Medical clinics where patients are charged relatively high fees and accept mostly cash payments may also be targeted as a possible “pill mill,” in spite of the fact that there is nothing illegal or unethical about accepting cash payments for medical services.
Doctors who prescribe a lot of Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Morphine Hydrocodone, and other Schedule II narcotics will always win the attention of the DEA. At times, the government will suggest that the sheer number of drugs and/or the combination of them prescribed by the doctor (especially the “holy trinity” combination of opiods, benzodiazepines and carisoprodols) point to a “pill mill.” In fact, doctors are legally authorized to prescribe whatever medication in whatever combination they think is best for their patient. Just because the doctor prescribes a lot of pain medicine doesn’t mean she’s operating a “pill mill”. The prescribing of medication to treat chronic pain is a legitimate function of a pain clinic.
How Does the Government Investigate “Pill Mills”?
When law enforcement believes that a medical clinic may be operating as a “pill mill,” they launch an investigation and obtain the physicians’ prescription records. The government agency (usually the DEA) will then have its paid “experts” to review the doctor’s prescribing habits. These “experts” almost always disagree with the doctor in favor of the government. The Government might also attempt to contact patients of this doctor to see if they are getting drugs from other sources or have criminal records.
Having this information, agents could simply go speak with the doctor and ask him or her about the patients in question or perhaps bring in the state medical board to review the doctor’s decisions. Instead, their approach is frequently to ignore the doctor and the state medical board and begin a covert undercover investigation.
Law enforcement agents may literally hide in the bushes and watch the clinic for many months on the behest of the government. They will take pictures of the patients coming and going at the clinic and note their license plate numbers. Oftentimes, they instruct the local police to harass and arrest patients of the clinic. In our experience, law enforcement officers have tried to bribe and intimidate former employees or patients of the clinic in efforts to get them to undermine the doctors and clinic owner.
The Government may also send in agents disguised as legitimate patients suffering from chronic pain. The agents lie to the doctors about their condition and symptoms in an attempt to trick the doctor into prescribing narcotic pain medication.
In numerous cases, the Government will attempt to hold the doctor and clinic responsible for patients who abused or sold (diverted) the pain medication they got from the clinic. Of course, the doctor is often completely unaware that this illegal activity is taking place.
Pill Mill investigations often take over a year to complete and are finalized when the Government raids the medical clinic. In the process, they usually, arrest the doctor and any other owner of the clinic. In some cases, employees will also be arrested. While this is happening, the Government can freeze bank accounts and seize whatever money they can get their hands on. Often this includes not just the clinic’s legitimate bank accounts, but additionally, the personal assets of the doctor or clinic owner.
How We Defend Medical Professionals in “Pill Mill” Cases
Our attorneys have very successfully in defended doctors and other healthcare professionals charged in “pill mill” investigations in federal courts across the country. We have learned that the only way to successfully defend these cases is to put in the time and money necessary to secure expert medical testimony that our clients’ prescribing practices of were legitimate and lawful.
Once we are hired, we immediately gather all of the evidence in the case including the relevant patient records. We call in well-respected medical experts that we have worked with in the past to review the records and the “expert” opinions of the Government officials. We then work closely with these experts to demonstrate that the doctor we are representing was prescribing narcotic pain medication for a legitimate medical need and was not just a drug dealer.
We customarily interview all of the Government witnesses to see if they have any bias or improper motives in testifying against our client. In many cases, the Government has obtained the cooperation and assistance of disgruntled former employees of the clinic or medical practice who then provide information that is simply not credible and is intended only to tarnish the reputation of our clients.
Although there are certainly some pain clinics and physicians who have a history of over-prescribed narcotic pain medication without a sufficient medical examination, we believe that the Government is going after experienced and credentialed practitioners who are often board-certified and trained in the treatment of chronic pain. It is our opinion that the Government is no longer just interested in putting criminals out of business. Instead, the Government is attempting to push an agenda to keep doctors from prescribing narcotic drugs for chronic pain patients. And it’s clear that the Government will wield the threat of criminal prosecution to accomplish this goal.
Harsher Penalties for Patient Overdose Deaths
Some recent “pill mill” cases have seen the Government attempting to hold doctors responsible for patient abuse of their prescription pain meds to the point that they overdose and die. Government prosecutors charge a doctor with patient deaths even if it was completely unforeseeable that the patient would disregard the dosage instructions and overdose on the drugs.
Such “death cases” carry stiff penalties. If a physician is convicted of prescribing pain medication without a legitimate medical purpose, and the patient subsequently overdoses on those drugs and dies, the doctor faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years behind bars. They could may be sentenced up to life in prison. These charges are frequently added to the drug conspiracy charges in “pill mill” cases to intimidate practitioners into a guilty plea.
When we are defending against allegations that our client is responsible for a patient overdose death, we bring expert pathologists and toxicologists to determine if other contributing factors existed in the patient’s demise. If we can demonstrate that the patient who abused the medication might have perished regardless of whether our client prescribed the pain medication, then the physician is cannot be held criminally responsible for the patient’s death.
Defending Against Forfeiture of Property and Seizure of Bank Accounts
Law enforcement will move to seize bank accounts and business assets in almost every alleged “pill mill” case. They even go for personal property like the doctor’s home. We move quickly to file a claim contesting the seizure so that the property cannot be forever lost to the Government. This loss can take place even if the doctor or other person charged with the crime is later found “not guilty” at trial. Ours is among a select few law firms who have won civil forfeiture trials in federal court. We have been able to have our clients’ money and property returned to them after the Government has failed in its attempt to prosecute them on drug conspiracy charges.
Call Us Today
Legal defense of doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals in “pill mill” cases can be extraordinarily difficult. Thankfully, our attorneys have successfully represented doctors and other professionals in these cases for a number of years.
In addition to assisting our clients get favorable outcomes or “not guilty” verdicts in “pill mill” cases; we assist with criminal appeals, sentencing hearings and grand jury investigations involving related allegations.
If you or your loved one is currently the target of a “pill mill” investigation or prosecution, or faces charges of unlawfully dispensing dangerous drugs, give us a call for a free consultation today.