When the handling of pharmaceutical substances is in question, a medical professional may retain the services of a diversion attorney to represent them in court and avoid serious charges.
When you think about criminal cases related to drug charges, you may think about drug dealing and possession among the general population, and you likely think of “street” drugs like heroin or cocaine. However, one major form of investigation performed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) surrounds the medical professionals who interact with pharmaceuticals on a daily basis. These workers are subject to licenses and registrations that allow them to handle controlled substances and therefore must uphold legal and ethical standards in their distribution of medications.
Also known as drug diversion, pharmaceutical diversion refers to the illegal use of prescription drug medication or fraud as a means of obtaining those drugs. Any criminal act that removes a drug from the path between a manufacturer and an intended patient is known as diversion.
While anyone can be accused of this, medical professionals are the most common perpetrators because of their unique access to medication and ability to distribute it. Because of this, healthcare workers are actually a high-risk group for drug addiction and sometimes divert drugs by writing their own prescriptions. Writing a prescription for a friend or family member is also considered diversion, as is taking that prescription as the friend or family member.
It can also be considered drug diversion to visit multiple doctors, obtaining the same prescription or a combination of prescriptions without disclosing that to each provider.
The Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency provides a website for anyone to report instances of drug diversion for further investigation. While the forms of diversion possible are extensive, the GDNA offers some examples of common ways they see this occurring.
Other forms of diversion include the following:
Depending on the scenario, a drug diversion investigation can be either a state or federal level process.
A state-level investigation usually begins with an informant or an anonymous tip and is often first sent to the state’s medical licensing board, who will contact law enforcement. The individual is not always told an investigation is underway, though sometimes they will be interviewed. Depending on the findings, cases can be referred to local officials or the state Attorney General for prosecution. In severe cases, they may refer the case to federal law enforcement agencies. Even if no legal action is taken, the licensing board may have their own disciplinary process they choose to undertake.
A federal investigation is typically more intensive and is conducted by the DEA Office of Diversion Control, sometimes with the help of other agencies. Federal, state, and local law enforcement may pool their resources to share information. Undercover agents, informants, and surveillance are commonly used in these cases. They often result in raids of a medical facility.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, a conviction for drug diversion in federal court could be subject to a fine of $250,000 and 10 years in federal prison for each individual offense. State charges could be applied in addition to federal ones depending on the specifics of the violation.
Hospitals, clinics, and other facilities with prescription drugs and medical staff onsite are expected to monitor for pharmaceutical diversion and have measures in place to prevent it from occurring. In the event that diversion does occur, this can help make a case for diligence in court.
Many providers are trained specifically to identify addicts who come through their office, allowing for closer monitoring of their history. There may be an internal process for reporting suspected addicts so that all staff can treat them carefully. Anonymous reporting is important so that employees don’t feel that they will get other staff or patients in trouble.
For very at-risk facilities, a drug diversion committee can be formed or a specialist can be brought in. These steps will create monitoring and preventative steps as well as formulate plans of action if diversion does occur.
If you are involved in a diversion case, as either a defendant or an informant, it is crucial to be knowledgeable about the process and proceed carefully. Anything you say or disclose to investigators can and will be used against you in a trial.
Often investigations begin out with a friendly tone and you may be told they are simply gathering routine evidence, or they may warm you up by contacting you about another case. No matter how it begins, you should never volunteer any information to a federal agent without consulting a diversion attorney first. What may feel like an innocent answer to a routine question could be a key piece of their investigation. If you are subject to a raid, avoid speaking as much as possible. Agents are trained to provoke you to speak in order to use those statements as part of a trial.
Like with any crime, you have the right to retain an attorney prior to speaking with any law enforcement agent. Finding a seasoned attorney with experience in diversion and other federal white-collar crimes will be critical as you move forward. If possible, do not wait until formal notice of a complaint or investigation to find representation- a good lawyer will be able to take steps during the initial process to minimize your chances of fines or prison sentences.