It has become apparent that the national push to prosecute pain management physicians under the Federal criminal drug statutes is making its way into Alabama. With the recent proliferation of heroin deaths in Alabama, it is believed that federal law enforcement within the state are looking to crack down on “pill mills” which distribute prescription pain medicine believed to be a sort of gateway drug to heroin.
Prosecutors have made it known that they are interested in speaking with drug addicts who have been arrested for unlawful possession in an attempt to make a case against doctors that are over-prescribing pain medication. It is also believed that the DEA is reviewing prescription statistics to determine which doctors are prescribing pain medication at the highest rates.
If the prosecution makes the decision that the prescriptions are being written outside the usual course of professional practice and other than for a legitimate medical purpose, charges can be brought. The question becomes, on a case-by-case basis, who is a prosecutor that is a non-physician to say what is or is not medically necessary. This will be the issue for the jury in these cases.
These prosecutions will be high-stakes and will target prominent members of the community in Birmingham and other Alabama cities. Similar cases have made national news with pain management doctors receiving sentences of up to 20 years for federal drug conspiracy, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, and money laundering. The money laundering allegations are typically brought in to show the doctors had a profit motive for prescribing large amounts of narcotics and used the money to purchase nice cars, homes and jewelry.
Some doctors are claiming that such prosecutions could have a chilling effect on how they treat their patients, while other doctors believe these “pill mills” give the profession a bad name. In any event, we will be hearing much more about these cases in the coming months.