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Federal government: Over-prescribing painkillers is a crime

As a doctor, you may prescribe opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and hydrocodone, to help your patients deal with chronic or severe pain. Since opioids are highly addictive, it is considered a criminal offense to over-prescribe them to patients. 

The federal government, specifically the Department of Justice (DOJ), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), say there is a line doctors can cross between performing their duty of care and over-prescribing narcotics. How do you know when you've crossed that line?

Several actions have been taken in recent months to curb opioid addiction in the United States. Much of this effort is focused on reducing the number of doctors who over-prescribe to patients.

  • In September 2016, the DOJ sent letters to all 94 U.S. Attorney Offices to encourage them to "work with public health officials" on the issue of over-prescribed narcotics. Specifically, they are aiming to reduce the number of "pill mills" in operation.
  • In October 2016, the DEA issued reduced production quotas for the number of opioids manufactured in the United States. According to a final order published with the Federal Registrar, for 2017 production of these narcotics may be reduced up to 37 percent.
  • In March 2017, the CDC released new guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. They recommend that physicians "start low and go slow," aiming for lower dosages (less than 20 MME per day) rather than higher ones (greater or equal to 100 MME per day).

If you are facing criminal charges for over-prescribing opioids, it is important to remember you have legal rights. As with any criminal charge, you are innocent until proven guilty. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help with your case.

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