Prescription Pills Trafficking & Distribution
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Prescription drug diversion conspiracies are aggressively investigated and prosecuted in federal court. Diversion means the prescription drugs were legally obtained through a prescription but then diverted and sold to others to whom they were not prescribed. Typical defendants in these cases include doctors, pharmacists, owners and employees of medical clinics and individuals who actually obtain the prescriptions and then provide them to another for compensation.
The FBI, DEA, and ATF are federal law enforcement agencies that typically perform the investigations of these alleged conspiracies. It is common practice for them to use controlled informants and perform video and audio surveillance using information from persons who have already been busted in return for a lesser sentence. If you believe you are under investigation or you have already been charged, retain a knowledgeable drug trafficking lawyer in Michigan right away.
Investigators also look for certain prescribing patterns commonly used by physicians that prescribe controlled substances outside the course of legitimate medical practice, and pharmacies dispensing these controlled substances outside legitimate pharmacy practice. The patterns include multiple patients receiving the same combination of controlled substances, the use of multiple pharmacies by patients to fill prescriptions, individuals traveling outside the area in which they live to fill prescriptions, excessive numbers of identical prescriptions in different names prescribed by the same doctor and filled by the same pharmacy, patients obtaining excessive amounts of controlled substances over an extended period of time, patients obtaining similar prescriptions from multiple doctors, patients receiving the maximum dosage for a narcotic or other controlled substance with no titration or “ramp up” or trial period, patients receiving multiple prescriptions simultaneously for different opiate-based narcotics or other substances with a known street value, patients involved in drug distribution conspiracies obtaining medications from a specific doctors, and doctors changing their prescribing habits in line with current street desire or highest street value of certain controlled substances. Federal law enforcement can easily receive this data through MAPS – Michigan Automated Prescription System. MAPS records all the information regarding all prescriptions filled in Michigan, including the doctor information, assigned DEA number, pharmacy, all patient information, drug, dosage, date filled, quantity, and refills. MAPS requires all pharmacies to report on a monthly basis all controlled substance prescriptions filled at their pharmacy. These reports must be submitted to MAPS by the 15th day of the following month in which the prescriptions were filled. MAPS is sortable using any of those categories which makes it easy for law enforcement to establish patterns.
Investigators often look for “prescription parties,” “pill parties,” or “signing parties” held at private residences of people known as “patient recruiters.” The patient recruiter would gather a group of patients for a physician to see all at one time to prescribe controlled substances at once.
The most popular diverted prescription drugs are the opiate-based painkillers which include OPANA, Oxycodone, Oxycodone Hydrochloride (HCL), Oxycontin, Roxicodone, Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet. Other popular street drugs include benzodiazepines such as Alprazolam, commonly known as Zanax, and codeine cough syrup.
Medicare and health care fraud are oftentimes investigated and indicted at the same time as doctors provide medical services that are not “reasonable and necessary” to treat Medicare-eligible patients and prescribe them controlled substances, which are then diverted. At the same time, Medicare is fraudulently billed.
Penalties for convictions in federal court for distribution of controlled substances are dependent upon the number of grams for certain substances or the number of pills or units for others. For instance, Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance. The maximum strength is 40 milligrams. If an offense involved 50,000 pills or units at 40 milligrams each, the base offense level would be 16 and start at 21 months in prison. This does not include additions to the base offense level for aggravating factors such as prior criminal record, injury to another, use of a dangerous weapon or violence, use of an aircraft, involvement of minors, or played a lead role in the offense. Mitigating circumstances mandating a reduction to the base offense level include playing a minor role, having no criminal record, not having a weapon, and no injuries.
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