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The Fight Against the National Opioid Epidemic and “Doctor Shopping”

More than one in 20 people in Indiana admit having engaged in non-medical use of opioid pain relievers. And with similar percentages of Kentucky’s citizens in the same sad predicament, federal, state and local law enforcement is aggressively attacking this social and legal tragedy nationwide.

Eighteen states have adopted comprehensive mandates in the past four years requiring doctors who prescribe opioids – oxycodone, hydrocodone, Xanax and others – and other controlled substances to check databases to learn whether their patients are addicts who get these drugs elsewhere. Prescribers – mainly physicians – can see which drugs their patients are obtaining and whether they are going to other prescribers to obtain opioids.

And even though opioid abusers often cross state lines and travel great distances to illegally obtain these drugs, prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs, are getting better at alerting doctors about whether or not the prescription they’re writing is for legitimate reasons and whether they might have either an addict, or someone who will funnel those pills into an addict’s pocket, on their hands.

In Kentucky, for example, which has one of the toughest approaches, prescribers must check a PDMP before issuing a first prescription for opioids, benzodiazepines and other controlled substances. They then must recheck it at least every 90 days thereafter.

Indiana law [§ 16-42-19] defines “doctor shopping” as: When a patient seeks to obtain controlled substances from multiple health care providers, often simultaneously, by either:

  1. Withholding material facts regarding their past and/or present controlled substance treatment
  2. Engaging in deceptive practices meant to stymie attempts by their health care providers to better coordinate the provision of care.

And in Kentucky, a ‘pill mill’ law was passed in 2015 which uses basically the same criteria.

Indiana and Kentucky Penalties

In both states, most opioids are classified as Schedule II illegal substances which have a high risk of abuse but also legitimate medical uses.

The amount (by weight) of the opioids an Indiana suspect possesses when arrested determines which felony they are charged with. If less than three grams, it’s a Class D (lower) felony. More than three grams makes it a Class C.  Penalties for possession (only) of opioids in Indiana are:

  • Class D – six months to three years in prison plus up to a $10,000 fine
  • Class C – two to eight years in prison plus no more than a $10,000 fine.

 

Indiana prison sentences for distribution of opioids can easily exceed 10 years for a first offense, For second and subsequent offenses, 20-year stretches are not unusual.

In Kentucky, simple possession is also a Class D felony. If convicted, penalties include a minimum fine of $1,000 and maximum of $10,000, or double the financial gain from the crime (whichever is greater). A prison sentence of one to three years is also assessed. Pharmacists in both states who are involved in illegal opioid distribution chains can also draw stiff prison sentences and fines if convicted.

And if the suspect crosses state lines in procuring or selling oxycodone, hydrocodone, Xanax, and pharmacists conspire with these felons to distribute these substances, federal drug charges (and sentences) can be quite draconian: 15 or more years commonly handed out, with  fines far exceeding those in either Kentucky or Indiana.

If you’ve been caught in this illegal opioid possession legal web, your New Albany Legal Team is here 24/7 at (812) 725-8224, or contact us online.

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