Never mind that 83 doctors were “punished by the Texas Medical Board in the past three years for drug law violations involving two or more patients,” and that a white collar crime lawyer in San Antonio knows as well as the TMB’s attorney that “any violation of the Medical Practice Act” enforced by the board “is a crime.” Fewer than one third of those 83 doctors faced criminal charges for their prescribing infractions, even when more than one of their patients die of overdoses. Indeed, the white coats have very little to fear from white collar prosecutors, even though the TMB is required to report criminal activity to the Texas Department of Public Safety and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
So why are so many doctors continuing in their practices which are potentially endangering the public? The Miami Herald’s in-depth article has several suggestions, not least of which is the “flawed system” by which the Board’s administrative sanctions of the doctors often preclude any criminal charges. Most everyone within the system seems to accept the Board’s authority as final, conclusive, and enough of a response that criminal charges aren’t necessary. But many families who’ve been affected by over-prescribing doctors and who’ve teamed up with a white collar crime lawyer in San Antonio, for example, believe otherwise.
“Fatal prescription drug overdoses exceed heroin and cocaine deaths combined and are considered an epidemic, claiming the lives of more than 400 Texans a year.” So why aren’t they being prosecuted? To some extent, it is their white coats that protect doctors from being challenged in court by a white collar crime lawyer from San Antonio, Dallas, or Houston, where many of these physicians are in practice seeing nearly 500 patients per month, and prescribing them all with narcotics. “We’ve grown up respecting doctors and assuming what they’re doing is right,” one Houston-based attorney is quoted in the Herald.
So maybe our assumptions need to be re-examined. But maybe doctors aren’t wholly to blame, DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno suggests: “A 2013 national survey on drug use found that most prescription drug users obtained them from friends or family; 1 in 5 got them from doctors,” leaving the DEA with fewer options of culprits to go after. Getting a white collar crime lawyer in San Antonio involved doesn’t even happen that often—often investigative cases “don’t meet the threshold to pursue criminal charges.” And even when they do, the prosecution process is lengthy, costly, and results in stale evidence and suffering morale of DEA employees.
So what’s the answer, here? One simple fix is the statewide database enabling doctors to check on “patients’ controlled substance dispensing histories,” so physicians will be able to quickly assess whether the individual has access to more medication than he or she is immediately prescribing. The Texas Medical Board believes it’s doing its best to sanction and deter physicians, saying that more prosecutions for infractions could have the contradictory effect of scaring doctors out of providing needed medical care for patients.
The answer to whether the Board is doing enough, though, depends on who you ask.