At least two Los Angeles area doctors have been arrested for selling opioids on the black market and writing false prescriptions. Thirty other medical professionals in California, Nevada, and Hawaii have been stripped of the right to prescribe drugs.
The arrests were part of Operation Hypocritical Oath. The investigation was carried out by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA first became suspicious of the LA-area physicians when they began to prescribe “unusual amounts of narcotics.”
Cracking Down on the Opioid Epidemic
The DEA investigation was launched to crack down on the country’s growing opioid epidemic. Doctors have been accused of overprescribing the popular painkillers. In 2015, a survey revealed that 92 million Americans “took a legitimately prescribed opioid like OxyContin or Percocet.” These are highly-addictive drugs. Once a patient is hooked, they’ll look anywhere to get the drugs, legally or illegally.
The DEA learned that many physicians were contributing to the opioid black market. Some sold their prescription pads, while others simply sold false prescriptions to patients who didn’t have a medical need for the drug. Two California physicians, Reza Ray Ehsan of Bel Aire and Michael Anthony Simental of Corona, raised many red flags.
The doctors were investigated because:
- They prescribed an unusually high amount of opioids, and
- At least one of their patients died of an opioid overdose.
Patients claimed that the doctors would prescribe whatever drugs they asked for whenever they visited the office. Now both doctors are facing serious drug charges.
State and Federal Prescription Drug Fraud Laws
Writing a false prescription is both a federal crime and a state crime.
Federal Controlled Substances Act
Doctors can face criminal charges under the Federal Controlled Substances Act for writing false prescriptions. Prescription drug fraud is often charged as a felony. Penalties can include imprisonment, fine, and the loss of DEA licenses. Doctors convicted in the state of California may also lose their license to practice medicine.
California Health & Safety Code Section 11153 HSC
Doctors can only prescribe medications if there is a legitimate medical purpose for doing so. Under California Health & Safety Code Section 11153 HSC, it’s a crime for a doctor to write an illegal or false prescription. An illegitimate prescription is defined as either:
- A prescription not issued in the usual course of professional treatment, OR
- A prescription for a controlled substance written for an addict or habitual user.
In other words, a prescription is not legal if the patient demonstrates no medical need for the controlled substance. Would a reasonable doctor, under the same circumstances and after conducting a thorough exam, have written the same prescription to treat a legitimate medical condition? If not, the prescription may be unlawful and false.
A doctor who writes a false prescription can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony under California state law. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in a Los Angeles County jail and/or $20,000 in fines. A felony is punishable by a maximum of three years in a California state prison.