Dubbed “just drug dealers” by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown, two Texas doctors and a nurse were recently convicted on federal drug trafficking charges. All three were sentenced to federal prison, 20 years for each doctor and 15 years for the nurse.


These cases coincide with another U.S. Attorney’s office’s recent shift in their focus in drug prosecutions to Big Pharma itself – both examples of an unprecedented effort to hold responsible parties in the opioid crisis accountable for their actions.


The federal government is serious about this new approach in the longstanding “War on Drugs.” This post will discuss what drug trafficking charges could mean for medical professionals.


We believe it could lead to more local doctors being charged for over-prescribing drug scrambling for an experienced Houston federal drug trafficking defense attorney sooner rather than later.


Understanding How Federal Drug Trafficking Laws Apply to Prescriptions


No one in the prescription drug chain is safe from scrutiny any longer. So, if you are a medical professional with authorization to prescribe medication, it’s imperative that you have at least a basic understanding of federal drug trafficking laws.


What Is Drug Trafficking?


Criminal drug trafficking refers to the illegal selling, transporting, and distribution of illicit drugs. Trafficking laws generally encompass all scheduled (or controlled) substances. When the federal government classifies a substance, the drug’s use and distribution are governed by law.


Federal statutes pertaining to their handling can be found in the Controlled Substances Act

(CSA). These regulations were intended to create a “closed system” of distribution, and to deter anyone besides authorized medical professionals from prescribing them and to the patient to whom the prescription is issued from taking them.


How Does This Apply to Prescription Writing?


Most pharmaceutical opioids fall under a Schedule II controlled substance classification. They are considered highly addictive, but do have well-researched and documented medicinal uses.


When writing prescriptions, the health care professional must adhere to certain regulations pertaining to a patient’s medical condition, documenting a patient’s history and the reasons why the prescribed medications are necessary for the patient’s treatment plan.


What Are the Charges and Penalties for Overprescribing?


When found dispensing prescription medications – especially opioids – outside their intended use, a health care professional will face severe consequences.


Depending upon what type of drug(s) involved and the amount the individual is accused of trafficking, felony convictions can carry sentences of 15 years to life in federal prison plus up to half a million dollars in fines.


When Could Writing an Rx Become Drug Trafficking?


Doctors prescribing pharmaceuticals properly need not worry. However, it is important to understand that agents are looking for specific activities, employing undercover tactics to retrieve information leading to links in large-scale trafficking chains.


How Are Health Care Professionals Caught?


DEA undercover operatives may infiltrate a physician’s  practice posing either as legitimate patients wanting pain medication or as employees. Their purpose is to determine whether or not the physician is operating as a “pill mill.”


What Qualifies as Suspicious Activity?


There are certain activities agents are looking that signal illicit handling of prescription drugs. These activities can be used as probable cause to investigate your practice further.

Here is a short list of red flags federal agents tend to look for:


  • Writing prescriptions without a legitimate, documented medical purpose.
  • Allowing other medical staff to write prescriptions unsupervised.
  • The sheer number of prescriptions coming out of your practice.
  • Large-quantity orders for societal hot button drugs – opioids and medicinal marijuana, for instance.


If you have been mistakenly accused of overprescribing drugs, and need help setting the record straight, reach out to a Houston attorney specializing in federal drug trafficking defense. It could mean the difference between spending the next few decades in federal prison or returning to work next week.