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California Health and Safety Code Section 11173: Doctor Shopping / Prescription Fraud

1. Definition and Statutory Elements of the Crime

As the prevalence of prescription drug overuse and addiction has increased in California, doctor shopping has become more and more common. Typically, doctor shopping describes the process of meeting with several doctors, medical providers, or pharmacies in an attempt to procure prescription drugs in large quantities. This is a common form of prescription fraud that is in violation of California Health and Safety Code section 111723.

A defendant may be convicted under the doctor shopping statute if defendant engages in any of the following acts:

-obtaining or attempting to obtain a controlled substance by utilizing subterfuge, deceit, fraud, misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact.
-making an untrue statement in any health record, report, order, or prescription.
-assuming a false title or falsely representing himself as a wholesaler, manufacturer, dentist, pharmacist, physician, veterinarian, physician’s assistant, registered nurse, or any other authorized person.
-affixing a forged or false label to a receptacle, container, or package which contains any controlled substance, including any drugs identified on federal and state drug schedules, such as oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone, xanax, adderall, valium, or ritalin.

2. Related Offenses

Other offenses that are related or similar to doctor shopping include:

a. California Health & Safety Code Section 11350 – Possession of a Controlled Substance
b. California Health & Safety Code Section 11153 – Prescribing a Controlled Substance without a Legitimate Purpose
c. California Health & Safety Code 11368 – Forged Prescription for Narcotic

3. Examples

Exmaple A: The defendant developed an addiction to oxycodone after he sustained injuries in a motor vehicle collision that caused recurring back pain. After his primary care physician declined to prescribe additional oxycodone or prescription painkillers, the physician recommended the defendant enroll in a drug treatment program. The defendant declined and instead proceeded to meet with several different physicians in the area in an attempt to obtain prescriptions for oxycodone. The defendant told the other physicians he had not previously treated with another provider and does not disclose his visits with other physicians. The defendant received prescriptions for oxycodone from each of the new physicians. The defendant may be charged and convicted of doctor shopping or prescription fraud under California Health and Safety Code Section 11173 because the defendant made false statements to each physician when he denied earlier treatment and denied treating with other providers.

Example B: The defendant visited a pharmacy to fill his prescription for xanax, which was properly prescribed to him by his primary doctor for a legitimate reason. The pharmacy declined to fill the prescription because the pharmacist believed the prescription may not have been legitimately obtained, even though it actually was. The defendant then went to another guilty of doctor shopping or prescription fraud under these facts.

4. Defenses to Doctor Shopping / Prescription Fraud
There are a number of scenarios where an individual may treat with multiple physicians and receive prescriptions from more than one care provider. If a defendant obtains a legitimate prescriptions for a valid reason and inadvertently fails to disclose non-material details about other treatment providers, it likely will not be sufficient to form the basis for a conviction under this statute. This statute specifically requires proof that the defendant attempted to procure the prescription in question by means of misrepresentation or intentional fraud.

5. Penalties
Doctor shopping or prescription fraud may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on circumstances underlying the case. Prosecutors will likely consider the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and the details related to the conduct in question. A misdemeanor conviction for this offense can lead to a sentence of up to one year in jail. Alternatively, if the defendant is convicted of a felony for this offense, the defendant may face a sentence of up to three years in state prison. The judge may also impose additional court fines and conditions.

6. Criminal Defense
If you are under investigation for or have been charged with doctor shopping or prescription fraud, it is imperative that you seek an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will help you protect your rights throughout the process and ensure that you retain all possible defense strategies.

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