Understand the basics of ‘doctor shopping’

“Doctor shopping” doesn’t mean trying to find a new doctor who will take your insurance. It’s a term used to describe a specific type of behavior that many addicts don’t even realize is a crime.

Doctor shopping is a term used to describe the actions of patients who seek treatment from multiple doctors at once, without informing the other doctors about each other’s treatment plan or prescriptions. Patients may also exaggerate their symptoms or invent conditions that are hard to verify objectively (like back strain or anxiety) to get prescriptions they don’t really need.

Essentially, patients who do this are manipulating the system and getting more drugs than they should have. It’s generally assumed that a patient is doing this for one of two reasons:

The patient has an addiction to narcotics and is trying to feed his or her addiction through prescriptions and a pharmacy rather than turn to a drug dealer.
The patient is obtaining the drugs for resale, capitalizing on the current demand for prescription pills by addicts.

In decades past, a patient who violated his or her doctor’s trust could expect a doctor to simply bounce him or her from the practice. These days, however, patients may find themselves facing charges because doctor shopping is a crime.

What are the possible punishments if you’re caught doctor shopping? Since the circumstances of each case can vary considerably, so can the outcome if you’re arrested:

Diversion programs are sometimes used to get addicts who engage in doctor shopping for personal use into a treatment program. Programs can include drug counseling, detox centers and therapy instead of jail.
Fines are also likely if you’re convicted. The fine for each prescription obtained by fraud ranges between $1,000 and $25,000.
Incarceration is more likely if you’ve already been previously convicted of doctor shopping or another drug crime. The sentence for obtaining a prescription by fraud can be as long as four years in jail.

Because doctor shopping is a serious crime, you need an attorney who is familiar with prescription drug defenses to represent you.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Doctor Shopping Laws,” accessed July 21, 2017

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