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California Health and Safety Code Section 11154(a) HSC: Prescribing a Controlled Substance Without Treatment

There is an epidemic of prescription drug addiction in the United States. Addiction can destroy lives, tear families apart, and even kill people. Prescription drugs are unlike street drugs in that they can be obtained through the reception of a prescription written by a licensed doctor. In order to curb the number of non-legitimate prescriptions, the California state legislature has imposed legislation which makes the prescription of a controlled substance illegal when the recipient of the substance is not receiving treatment with the prescribing practitioner. This offense is a violation of California Health and Safety Code Section 11154(a) HSC.

For a conviction, prosecutors must be able to prove the following circumstances:

  • The defendant is a licensed medical practitioner
  • The defendant prescribed or administered controlled substances to an individual
  • The individual receiving the controlled substances was not receiving treatment for a legitimate medical condition other than a drug addiction

This statute can also apply when a physician or veterinarian prescribes a controlled substance to an animal without any follow-up or simultaneous treatment.


A physician has a license and the authorization to write prescriptions for controlled substances. The doctor does not wish to comply with California state legislature’s drug laws because he thinks that all people should be allowed access to any substance. The doctor writes prescriptions for various controlled substances to people who reach out to him through his website, even though he has never actually treated the person or met them in person. This doctor is violating the California Health & Safety Code Section 11154(a) HSC and could be prosecuted.

A doctor receives a new patient who complains that he is experiencing severe back pain. After an examination, the doctor is worried that the man is faking the pain. The doctor prescribes painkillers regardless because he is unsure whether the man is lying, and he does not want to be responsible for an individual’s continued pain. In this case, the doctor is not guilty of prescribing controlled substances without treatment due to the fact that he performed a medical examination and had a legitimate basis for prescribing the medication.

A doctor is hired by a treatment center which specializes in the treatment of patients who are addicted to opiates such as heroin. The doctor does not meet every client, but he does write a large number of methadone prescriptions. Even though methadone is a controlled substance, the doctor wouldn’t be liable because controlled substances can be prescribed to addicts that are undergoing treatment at a licensed treatment facility.

Defenses for Unlawful Prescription Without Treatment

Physicians who prescribe controlled substances in the context of a legitimately licensed treatment facility are not criminally liable under California state law. Physicians are also not subject to criminal liability when they perform examinations and believe there is a legitimate medical basis for the prescription, even if the patient is later found to be lying about their symptoms.

Penalties for Unlawful Prescription Without Treatment

The prescription of a controlled substance without subsequent treatment is considered a “wobbler” offense in the state of California, which means it can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor. The factors regarding the severity of the offense include the specific circumstances, the defendant’s criminal history, and whether the offense was repeated or not. If convicted of a misdemeanor charge, the defendant could be subject to up to one year in jail. If convicted of a felony, the defendant could be subject to up to three years in federal prison.

Medical practitioners convicted of unlawful prescription of any kind will be subject to disciplinary action from the medical licensing board. This is separate from the action taken in court, and will often result in the revocation or lengthy suspension of their medical license.

Related Criminal Offenses

The following offenses are often related to this statute violation:

  • Prescription of a Controlled Substance Without a Legitimate Purpose
  • Doctor Shopping and Prescription Fraud

If the medical professional did not conduct an examination or any subsequent treatment, they may be additionally charged with prescribing without a legitimate purpose. If the patient is found to be faking their symptoms to receive prescriptions, they may be charged with doctor shopping and prescription fraud.

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