Feds Have Taken Thousands of Doctors' Prescribing Licenses Dea Cracking Down on Physicians Who Overprescribe Pills

By Lord, Rich; Silber, Maia | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 12, 2016 | Go to article overview

Feds Have Taken Thousands of Doctors' Prescribing Licenses Dea Cracking Down on Physicians Who Overprescribe Pills


Lord, Rich, Silber, Maia, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The following CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION appeared on August 13, 2016.The Drug Enforcement Administration accepted the surrender of 3,679 prescribing licenses and revoked 99 from medical professionals from 2011 to 2015. A headline on a story Friday incorrectly stated the number of revocations.

Thousands of medical professionals have quietly signed away their rights to prescribe narcotics - and, in many cases, their careers - in recent years in a little-discussed part of the federal crackdown on prescribing that has some doctors' advocates crying foul.

From 2011 to 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration accepted the surrender of 3,679 prescribing licenses nationwide, and revoked another 99, according to the agency's response this week to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In Pennsylvania during that time, the DEA accepted the surrender of 148 prescribing licenses -typically held by doctors, dentists, veterinarians and nurse practitioners -and revoked one such license.

When federal agents rush into the office of a physician accused of prescribing too many pain pills, they often offer up a one-page form through which the doctor can surrender his right to prescribe many drugs. If the doctor signs?

"Kiss it goodbye. It's never coming back," said Dick Margarita, a former DEA agent who defends California doctors against prescribing-related charges. "One of the prerequisites for being employable is having a DEA [prescribing] license. You've basically written yourself out of employment."

A lot of those license surrenders stem from the effort to combat the diversion to the streets of opioid painkillers, said Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman.

"DEA is working hard in all aspects of our regulatory authority to try and address the opioid epidemic," she said. If the DEA sees "the number of schedule II OxyContins that they've dispensed in the last two years has gone up 200 times," that can trigger an investigation and a license action, she said.

The surrender or revocation of a DEA prescribing license can spur state action against a doctor's privilege to practice medicine - a one-two punch that some view as unfair.

Professor Leo Beletsky, a drug law expert at Northeastern University in Boston, pointed out that dual regulation by federal and state governments can cause frustration and confusion. Although state medical boards issue and regulate medical licenses, doctors must register for a DEA license to prescribe controlled substances.

State and federal authorities may disagree in some cases about how and whether a doctor should be disciplined. "Sometimes the state doesn't really follow what the federal level is doing, and sometimes the federal level doesn't fully appreciate the nuance of the situation," he said.

Practices also seem to differ across states.

In Kentucky, where the regulator's lash has hit rogue prescribers hardest, nearly 20 of every 1,000 prescribing licenses were surrendered or revoked over five years. …

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