Supreme Court to Hear Case on Doctors’ Pill Mills

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Doctors' Pill Mills

( – The opioid epidemic unveiled the dirty deeds of pharmaceutical companies to push drugs using misinformation. Investigations uncovered doctors willing to overlook ethics to make a buck. The law cracked down on them, but the push to fix the problem created new issues and left doctors afraid to prescribe opioids. Now, the US Supreme Court will hear a case that could significantly impact the ability of medical professionals to prescribe medications they believe are necessary without fear of criminal punishment.

The Case

Attorneys for two doctors who went to prison on charges of illegally prescribing opioids claim there is an inconsistent federal criminal standard with no clear definition of what constitutes good medical decisions. They want the Supreme Court to create a uniform standard, which would allow a good faith defense for doctors and would let a jury consider if the physician used his or her best medical judgment.

While the decision won’t likely free the two doctors from their sentences, given there is plenty of evidence of their guilt, it could have a further-reaching impact on the medical field. The potential is a court ruling could change the ability of doctors to prescribe addictive pain medications and other restricted drugs.

The Considerations of the Court

The justices will need to consider how the law can balance letting doctors do what they think is best based on their medical knowledge with protecting the public from pill mills and other hazards of these drugs. The court will specifically look at the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

This law allows physicians an exception when giving patients certain drugs. For example, selling opioids on the street is illegal, but it is acceptable for a doctor to prescribe them as long as there is a fundamental medical basis.

This case is a little different than many that come before the panel because there are no issues here that are liberal or conservative. Because this isn’t a politically charged case, it’s tough to know what the Supreme Court will do. Experts think it’s most likely the justices will issue a clarifying ruling.

There are a couple of important points the ruling could clear up, beginning with the potential that overcorrection occurred when doctors suddenly stopped giving out the drugs due to fear of criminal prosecution. As prescriptions went down, overdose deaths went up, suggesting that preventing doctors from prescribing the medication led to them withholding it from patients who really did need them. These people sought their supplies from somewhere else, leading to illegal and unsafe usage.

The next issue is the treatment of chronic pain patients. Some people benefit from opioid drugs, but the push to combat the epidemic led to trouble getting proper treatment. The National Pain Advocacy Center said the fear of prosecution deters doctors from using their medical judgment when treating pain, leaving patients suffering.

While the case at the heart of things isn’t likely to see much change, the issue the court will consider could alter a lot. The judges can give doctors back some power to properly use opioid drugs and help people while ensuring the law protects patients from unethical actors.

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