Physicians charged with opioid-analgesic prescribing offenses

Donald M. Goldenbaum, Myra Christopher, Rollin M. Gallagher, Scott M Fishman, Richard Payne, David Joranson, Drew Edmondson, Judith McKee, Arthur Thexton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. To provide a "big-picture" overview of the characteristics and outcomes of recent criminal and administrative cases in which physicians have been criminally prosecuted or charged by medical boards with offenses related to inappropriate prescribing of opioid analgesics. Design: We identified as many criminal and administrative cases of these types as possible occurring between 1998 and 2006. Cases were identified using a wide variety of sources, including organizational and government-agency databases, published news accounts and websites. Factual characteristics of these cases and their outcomes, and of the physicians involved, then were further researched using additional sources and methods. Setting: Study findings are intended to apply to practicing U.S. patient care physicians as a whole. Patients or other participants: There were no patients or participants in this study. Outcome measures: We analyzed the numbers and types of cases and physicians involved, criminal and administrative charges brought, case outcomes and sanctions, specialties and other characteristics of the physicians involved. Results: The study identified 725 doctors, representing an estimated 0.1 percent of practicing patient care physicians, charged between 1998 and 2006 with criminal and/or administrative offenses related to prescribing opioid analgesics. A plurality of these (39.3 percent) were general practice/family medicine physicians, compared with 3.5 percent who were self-identified or board-certified pain specialists. Physicians in this sample were more likely to be male, older and not board certified (P<0.001). DEA criminal and complaint investigations averaged 658 per year (2003-2006) and "for cause" surrenders of DEA registrations averaged 369.7 (2000-2006). Conclusions: Criminal or administrative charges and sanctions for prescribing opioid analgesics are rare. In addition, there appears to be little objective basis for concern pain specialists have been "singled out" for prosecution or administrative sanctioning for such offenses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-31
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Medical Licensure and Discipline
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • LPN and LVN
  • Education
  • Health Policy


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