More U.S. doctors facing charges over drug abuse

Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:54am EDT
 
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By Terry Baynes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Jackson's doctor, accused of killing the pop star with a powerful anesthetic, has joined a small but growing number of U.S. physicians facing criminal charges over their handling of prescription drugs.

Medical negligence cases in the United States are typically handled in civil court, with the victim or victim's family seeking money damages from the doctor.

In the case of Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, prosecutors allege his negligence was so extreme that he should be charged with involuntary manslaughter and punished with prison time.

Fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers more than tripled to 13,800 in the United States in 1999 through 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consequently, more doctors are finding themselves in the sights of prosecutors as states like Florida and Georgia confront the growth in abuse of prescription drugs. The prosecution of doctors is seen as more effective than bringing cases against their patients.

There were just over two dozen reported criminal cases against doctors for malpractice in the two decades from 1981 to 2001, according to Westlaw research by James Filkins, a doctor and lawyer who has written about the criminal prosecution of physicians.

Replicating Filkins' research, Reuters tallied around 37 reported criminal cases in the decade from 2001 to 2011, with most recent cases against doctors for over-prescribing painkillers and other controlled substances.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration information suggests a similar trend. For 2003, the agency reported 15 physician arrests that resulted in convictions. By 2008, the most recent year with comprehensive data, the number had grown to 43.   Continued...

 
<p>A bottle of prescription medication rests on a counter at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>