Medical professionals including doctors and licensed nurse practitioners have the authorization to prescribe powerful drugs to their patients. In many cases, these drugs are highly addictive. In the state of California, legislation has been drawn to curb the potential for abuse of this power. Excessively prescribing drugs is a criminal act according to California Business and Professions Code Section 725(b). Individuals who are convicted of this offense can face severe consequences.
In order to convict defendants based on this statute, prosecutors need to prove the following circumstances:
- The defendant repeatedly prescribed excessive amounts of drugs or treatment when said prescriptions were unnecessary
When a medical practitioner has a legitimate medical reason for the prescription or administering of dangerous drugs and controlled substances, they will not be charged with a violation of this statute. Similarly, no physicians will receive disciplinary actions when they treat intractable pain, provided they treat it through strict compliance with the law.
A doctor is approached by an elderly woman who suffers severe pain. She will be out of town for a long period of time, so she asks the doctor to write a prescription for painkillers that will last several months. Usually the doctor does not prescribe this amount of pain medication at one time, but he decides to make an exception for the patient. In this case, the doctor would not be liable regarding California Business and Professions Code Section 725(b) BPC because the action was one-time rather than repeated, and there was a clear medical reason for the extended prescription.
An audit of a doctor’s practice shows excessive drug prescription on several occasions. The doctor prescribes medication quantities that go beyond the norms in the industry. No records show a medical rationale for the the prescriptions. The doctor could be prosecuted for excessively prescribing drugs along with a variety of other offenses.
Defenses for Excessive Drug Prescribing
There are some exceptions to the statute, as previously stated. If the physician had a medical rationale for the prescription or administration of the drugs, they would not be prosecuted. If the patient was receiving treatment for intractable pain, the physician would also not be criminally liable provided they worked in compliance with laws regarding controlled substances.
This crime is only applicable to cases where the excessive prescribing was repeated and habitual. The statute does not specifically state how many times constitutes a “repeated act” or “an excessive amount.” Therefore, if the prescribed amount was not “clearly excessive” or this is the first documented offense, the defendant has a strong defense.
Penalties for Excessive Drug Prescribing
Excessive drug prescription is considered a misdemeanor offense in the state of California. If a physician is convicted of this offense, they will be sentenced to at least sixty days in jail with a maximum time of six months. They will also have to pay court fines. Defendants will also receive disciplinary action by the medical licensing board, which could result in the suspension or revocation of their professional medical license. The exact sentence varies from case to case based on the particular case details and the medical professional’s criminal history.
These offenses may be charged in conjunction with or in lieu of a Section 725(b) violation:
- Prescribing a Controlled Substance Without a Legitimate Purpose
- Prescribing a Controlled Substance Without Treatment
- Prescribing Controlled Substances to an Addict
If charged with any of these offenses in addition to the Section 725(b) offense, the physician may be subject to more severe penalties.