Prescription Fraud & Obtaining a Controlled Substance by Fraud
Why Prescription Fraud Charges Can Happen to Anyone:
Our clients arrested for prescription fraud in the St. Petersburg and Clearwater area come from a wide background of ethnic, social, educational, and economic backgrounds. Many who became addicted to street drugs later discovered prescription medications as an alternative source to meet their addiction needs. A very large number of our clients became addicted to a drug that they had first legally secured for a legitimate medical purpose. Thereafter, they attempted to secure the same drug through illegal means. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that women may be more likely to commit prescription fraud as they are 48% more likely to be legally prescribed an abusable (i.e. narcotic or anti-anxiety) drug by their doctor. Other research has shown that when it comes to a sedative, anti-anxiety drug, or hypnotic, women are nearly twice as likely to become addicted. This research is consistent with the type of clients who visit our office in that many clients facing a prescription fraud prosecution in Pinellas County are middle-class women, who have become addicted after being prescribed a pain reliever.
Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, and hospital employees are the category of persons most likely to commit this offense. These people have an insider’s understanding of the prescription writing and filling process. They are often in a unique position to acquire and abuse prescription drugs. Although we see a large number of clients in these occupations, it is not uncommon for us to help both young people, as well as the elderly.
In January of 2002, the media reported that Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s own daughter, had been arrested for prescription fraud. Noelle Bush (24 years of age) had attempted to pick up Xanax from a Walgreens pharmacy after phoning in a fraudulent prescription. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh likewise shocked listeners after his admission to having an addiction to pain killers. The controversy over his alleged doctor-shopping and thus illegal securing of prescription medication fueled interest by the public. Both cases have contributed to bringing prescription fraud to the lime light of law enforcement investigations.
What Kinds of Prescription Medications are Most Commonly Involved?
Local Pinellas County law enforcement agency arrests for this offense are often connected with the following medications:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- OxyContin (oxycodone)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- OxyContin (oxycodone)
In particular, the use of OxyContin has proven to be highly popular. Our inquiry revealed that between 1995 and 2000, OxyContin lab submissions by Florida law enforcement increased by 161 percent. This drug has been a forerunner because of its notorious addictive nature and also because it commands such high dollars on the black market. The National Drug Intelligence Center has reported that the Southeastern portion of the United States in general has seen an increase in Dilaudid prescription cases. You will also find Hydrocodone on the watch list of the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. Vicodin, which is a form of hydrocodone, is seen as a popular drug of choice for prescription fraud in the Tampa Bay area. The popularity of Oxycodone as a drug of abuse in the Pinellas County area is clear when one considers the rising number of overdose-related deaths that occur here. In fact, in 2008, the counties of Pinellas and Pasco accounted for nearly 25% of all the deaths in Florida that were attributed to Oxycodone overdoses. Across the State of Florida, the number of deaths from Oxycodone has risen by one-third between 2007 to 2008. This alarming trend has developed even as the number of deaths from heroin overdoses has steadily declined. Thus, it appears that some people are using Oxycodone as a replacement for heroin given the ready availability of the prescription painkiller. It is also apparent that other people, who have received their medication legitimately, are also abusing the drug. Both situations, of course, have caused a rising number of deaths directly attributable to this particular medication.
How is Prescription Fraud Committed?
Forging Prescriptions – High quality copiers are often employed. Some individuals go so far as even painting glue on the upper edge to simulate the appearance that the fraudulent prescription was ripped from a prescription pad.
Altering Prescriptions – In this method a legitimate prescription is altered to change the type of drug (i.e. from Tylenol II to Tylenol IV); to increase the number of refills or to increase the quantity. In some cases, an individual may fraudulently add a second drug to a legitimate prescription for another medication. Altering a prescription is often the first efforts made on the part of someone who has unfortunately become addicted to a drug that was originally legally prescribed to him for a legitimate medical purpose.
Calling in Prescriptions – This scenario involves impersonating a doctor or a member of a health care facility’s medical staff and phoning in a prescription to the local pharmacy. These persons often include regular patients of the doctor. They are many times likewise revealed to be employees of the medical office. Typically, the phone call is well timed so that in the event the pharmacy wants to call the doctor to confirm the prescription, the doctor’s office will have already closed for the business day. In the alternative, some persons boldly leave their own home or cell phone numbers for verification purposes. Perpetrators have persuasively convinced pharmacy staff by acting in a friendly “business as usual” manner and giving the impression that they are accustomed to calling in prescriptions on a regular basis. In some instances, the caller will even be in possession of a physcian’s DEA number, thus lending a further layer of credibility to the fraudulent call.
Theft of Blank Prescription Pads – The stealing of prescription pads from a doctor or dentist’s office is a common occurrence. Busy doctors are well known to leave these documents haphazardly lying around the office and unguarded. They also underestimate the talents of their opportunistic patients, staff or cleaning personnel to pocket these forms. Sometimes, the phone number on the prescription is altered so that the perpetrator or their accomplice can answer verification calls from the pharmacy.
Internet Pharmacies – Online pharmacies have proliferated in recent years. These businesses are of concern to the National Center on Addiction and Substance abuse, who as of January 2004, identified 157 such online Internet pharmacy sites. Some of these businesses only require customers to report their symptoms by way of an online questionnaire. In many cases, there is no requirement that a licensed physician verify the symptoms, make a prognosis of the medical problem, or prescribe the appropriate medication. The F.B.I. recently reported that some online pharmacies did not verify the prescriptions or had recruited corrupt physicians who were writing bogus prescriptions to support the fraudulent online prescription orders. For those sites that do require a prescription prior to shipment, they typically accept faxed copies. These faxed copies are often altered or completely fabricated during the prescription fraud process. Customers are often the victim of fraud themselves, since some online pharmacies based in Mexico, Canada, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria and India have been known to ship counterfeit medications. They have also been found to send pharmaceuticals that often contain inactive ingredients, incorrect ingredients, or improper dosages.
How You May Have Been Caught
Much prescription fraud goes on undetected. In fact, when our office represents a client charged with a prescription fraud offense, it is not uncommon for us to learn that other separate instances of the same conduct transpired but were fortunately undiscovered by law enforcement. Our taking of depositions at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center of doctors and pharmacists has revealed the following methods typically employed to detect prescription fraud:
- Recognizing a customers behavior as suspicious.
- Calling back on phone-in prescriptions and checking the doctors name, signature, phone number and DEA number with the pharmacy’s own internal records.
- Maintaining a pharmacy database of their customers. These patient records are used to track previous prescriptions (and their frequency) filled by their pharmacy.
- Noting that a customer appears to be returning too frequently. For instance, identifying prescriptions that should have lasted a month, if taken in the proper dosage, being refilled on a weekly or daily basis.
- Identifying prescriptions with unusual quantities or dosages.
- Recognizing customers who appear to have prescriptions for antagonistic drugs. For example, why would a physician write a prescription for a stimulant and a short time later provide the same patient with a depressant?
- Identifying a pattern of several new customers arriving with prescriptions from the same doctor.
- Seeing a prescription that does not comply with acceptable standard abbreviations typically employed within the medical profession.
- Employing a security code that prevents customers from impersonating the doctors office during phone-in prescriptions.
- Checking photo identification of the customer against the name on the prescription.
- Identifying prescription dugs of abuse. If the prescription is for a particular drug typically sought via prescription fraud, then carefully examining the prescription itself to look for alterations and to determine if there has been fraudulent reproductions of the prescription pad itself.
- Although there is no legal obligation on the part of a doctor to report prescription fraud, his medical malpractice carrier would probably encourage him to do so.
Pharmacists and their staff in the St. Petersburg / Clearwater area are increasingly being educated in the area of fraud detection. Most have participated in some form of Pharmaceutical Diversion Education.
How We Can Help Defend You on Your Prescription Fraud Charge
An arrest for a prescription fraud charge arising out of the St. Petersburg / Clearwater area is a serious matter. It is a felony offense that could not only lead to the ramifications of being a convicted felon, but also expose you to incarceration in either County Jail or within the Florida state prison system. You need an local St. Petersburg / Clearwater attorney well familiar with the unique nature of these charges and experienced within our Pinellas County Criminal Court System.
We Can Discuss What Options and Strategies are Best for You The facts of your case will be scrutinized to ascertain whether any of your constitutional rights were violated. This could result in the possible suppression of evidence or in statements made by you.
- Pinellas County Drug Court – We may conclude that your case is appropriate for an administrative transfer to drug court. Switching divisions in this manner would otherwise enable you to avoid formal conviction. This unique Pinellas County courtroom is oriented toward treatment of the offender and not toward punishment. For further information on the Pinellas County Drug Court, click here.
- Pre-Trial Intervention – We may be able to make application for your participation in a Diversion Program that upon successful completion, would entitle you to have the charges dismissed. Further information on Diversion Programs available through the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office. We can assist you in getting started on any treatment that you might need. Our office is very familiar with local addiction treatment providers. We feel confident that we can refer you to an effective treatment facility that you will feel comfortable with.
- Sealing and Expungement of Your Criminal Record – Our experience has shown that a coordinated strategy that addresses the addiction issue early on in your representation, may later pay dividends in seeking leniency with the court. We can discuss with you your eligibility to have your record of arrest sealed or expunged. Click for further information on the sealing and expungement of Pinellas County criminal records.
Call our office for a free initial consultation at (727) 578-0303