Lauderdale Defense Watch: “Pill Mill” Crack Down Results in Doctors in Handcuffs

A number of recent arrests – including those of seven doctors- connected to so-called “pill mills” compel our Broward criminal defense lawyers to address why authorities in Florida are so interested in these crimes and what possible defenses you may have, depending on your alleged role. pills.jpg

Law enforcement agencies across the state first started noticing an uptick in crimes they related to the proliferation of prescription drug addiction several years ago. They attributed this increase to the widespread availability of painkillers and other medications through what they called “pill mills.” Law enforcement agencies defined these as pain management clinics that prescribed powerful narcotics for reasons that were either non-medical or otherwise inappropriate.

It was already against federal law for a doctor to prescribe a pain medication without a legitimate reason. Doing so could – and still does – lead to drug trafficking charges.

But in 2011, state lawmakers approved a last-minute bill that essentially tightens reporting requirements to the prescription drug monitoring database, bans most doctors from directly dispensing the drug and caps the number of prescriptions any one pharmacy can dole out.

It also increased penalties for doctors who inappropriately prescribed narcotics.

Using this new measure, law enforcement kicked off “Operation Pill Nation,” a statewide crackdown involving the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s this operation that resulted in the recent arrest of seven doctors and four others connected to a clinic in Pompano Beach. They were charged with a range of felonies, including trafficking in a controlled substance, racketeering and money laundering.

Undercover agents reported gaining access to 55 prescriptions, including nearly 3,000 oxycodone pills, and several dozen each of Xanax, methadone, Klonopin and Valium.

In addition to the arrests, seven vehicles and a number of weapons were also seized.

The defense approach for each case is going to vary depending on the exact circumstances.

Sometimes, it comes down to a doctor practicing medicine in a way law enforcement does not approve of. Prescribing painkillers in and of itself is not a crime – and in fact, a doctor may be in violation of his own ethical oath if he doesn’t ease a patient’s suffering.

It’s up to prosecutors to prove that a crime was committed. In a number of cases, prosecutors have had difficulty doing this. In one recent case, the trial of a Tampa doctor on similar charges resulted in a hung jury. In the end, he went through a pretrial diversion program and kept his license.

One of the strongest arguments a defense team can make is that pain is a subjective thing. If someone tells you they are in great pain, there is no definitive way to prove that you are not telling the truth.

Another possible approach is requesting to have certain pieces of evidence tossed from consideration through motions to suppress. This can be done if evidence hasn’t been properly collected or if law enforcement officers stepped outside the scope of their authority. This happens more than you might think, and it’s particularly relevant when we’re talking about protection of people’s medical privacy.

We also may argue that if there were errors, they can easily be attributed to administration problems, rather than criminal acts. The doctor or medical professional may still be sanctioned by the state medical board, but oftentimes they can keep their medical license.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Seven doctors among 11 charged in latest pill mill crackdown, By Wayne Roustan, Linda Trischitta, Sun-Sentinel

More Blog Entries:
U.S. v. Davis Illustrates Need for Experienced Florida Defense Lawyer, Aug. 8, 2012, Broward County Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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