Physicians in Texas have been put on alert regarding the excess prescribing of opioid painkillers through lengthy prison sentences indicated for at least two doctors here in recent months. Both doctors were prosecuted on federal drug charges for overprescribing pain killers and for allegedly contributing to the deaths of several of their patients. The most recent guilty plea was entered in federal court by a North Texas doctor who was the principal physician at a pain and wellness center.
Federal prosecutors indicated that the doctor distributed a "shocking" amount of opioids and that he also participated in health care fraud by submitting bills to the government that contained false information. The sentence that he agreed to is reportedly 20 years in a federal prison, but the sentencing judge may exercise discretion in determining the length of the imprisonment. Another doctor was prosecuted on similar drug charges and sentenced in February to 10 years by a federal judge.
When the charges are supported by overwhelming evidence, including the eyewitness testimony of many different individuals, defense counsel and the accused will often find it far more prudent to accept a plea agreement with federal authorities. The federal courts are well-known for giving stiff sentences to criminal defendants who compel the government to expend resources for long investigations and contested jury trials. In this case, the doctor reportedly faced life in prison on the numerous serious felony charges.
The physician's defense counsel reported to the court that his client was admitting that he made a mistake in only one of the deaths cited by prosecutors. Technically, the accused cannot be sentenced for those deaths without being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the federal courts in Texas and elsewhere can under certain instances take such collateral evidence into account in fashioning a sentence for drug charges. Medical providers who are given notice that they are being investigated for such potential offenses will be best served by immediately consulting with experienced criminal defense counsel.