With more attention than ever being focused these days on prescription drug overdoses, doctors are increasingly finding themselves the targets of criminal investigations. Some are charged with running "pill mills" as if they were corner drug dealers. Some, like Conrad Murray, who served as pop-star Michael Jackson's personal physician, even find themselves brought up on charges related to their patient's unfortunate death. If you're a physician who prescribes pain medication, there are precautions that you need to take to avoid trouble.
Know your patients.
As a physician, part of your job is to help alleviate suffering–which can make it difficult to deny someone painkillers when they're describing excruciating pain that keeps them from sleeping or functioning. However, you can take certain steps to help minimize the likelihood that someone who is abusing painkillers will play on your sympathies:
- Make sure that you get identification. Since ID theft is one way that drug abusers obtain multiple prescriptions, requiring a photo ID and a second form of verification (preferably, something that has their address on it, like a utility bill in their name) can reduce your chances of being targeted.
- Be alert to patients who are familiar with multiple forms of opioids. If a patient has a long medical history that involves a painful condition, he or she might reasonably have some familiarity with different forms of painkillers. However, someone who is complaining of a relatively recent back injury probably shouldn't be able to rattle off the name and dosage of a desired narcotic.
- Make sure that you get medical records that establish some basis for the pain. MRIs, x-rays, and records from rheumatologists or other specialists should be obtained for patients alleging chronic, painful conditions.
- Take note of out-of-state patients or patients who are travelling long distances to see you when there are other doctors available in their locations. That could indicate that you're developing a reputation for being overly easy with prescriptions
All of these steps can help make sure that your patient is both who he or she is supposed to be and has a verifiable condition that requires painkillers.
Be responsive to problems.
Another thing that physicians need to do is simply be responsive to signs that a problem is occurring. In a case that is likely to reverberate throughout the medical community, a physician in California was convicted of second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of three separate patients. Records indicate that the doctor ignored warning signs that should have told her that her practice was being used to fuel addictions, including contacts from the police regarding overdoses and patients selling prescriptions.
Keep in mind that a raid on your office by DEA agents is likely the last step in an investigation against you, not the first. If you've been contacted by police for any reason, it's possible that you're already under investigation. You should contact an attorney (such as one from Scott L. Kramer Law Office) as soon as possible to discuss the situation.