Doctors Rarely Face Criminal Charges for Illegal Prescribing

Despite a 2010 law created to crack down on illegal prescribing, many Texas doctors who violate prescription drug laws have little to fear from prosecutors, even if their patients die of an overdose. In the past three years, less than a third of the 83 doctors punished by the Texas Medical Board for drug law violations involving two or more patients were charged criminally.

Claiming the lives of more than 400 Texans annually, fatal prescription drug overdoses exceed heroin and cocaine deaths combined. More than two-thirds of the doctors the Texas Medical Board punished did not face criminal action for their prescribing. Usually the board, which cannot impose criminal charges, acts administratively on a doctor’s license. The board is also required to report suspected criminal activity and turns over all of its orders to the Texas Department of Public Safety and its more serious actions to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said the DEA has good relations with medical boards and actively pursues cases. Oftentimes, the DEA takes administrative (not criminal) action as well, such as canceling a doctor’s authority to prescribe controlled substances.

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