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The Supreme Court is on the side of doctors who question opioid sentences



(Reuters) – The US Supreme Court on Monday gave two doctors found guilty of abusing their licenses in the middle of the US opioid epidemic to prescribe thousands of prescriptions for addictive painkillers another chance to challenge their beliefs.

The judges decided 9-0 in favor of Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn, who had argued to challenge their conviction that their trials were unfair because jurors did not have to consider whether the two doctors had “good faith” reasons to believe their many opioid prescriptions. were medically valid.

Liberal Judge Stephen Breyer, writing to the court, said that once defendants have presented evidence that they were competent to dispense controlled substances such as opioids, prosecutors must prove that they knew they were acting in an unlawful manner.

The judges sent the two cases back to federal appellate courts that had previously upheld their convictions for further proceedings, where prosecutors can claim that any mistakes in their jury instructions amounted to harmless errors.

The United States has been battling an opioid epidemic for more than two decades that, according to federal health officials, has claimed the lives of more than half a million Americans.

States have sued pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to hold them accountable, but another key factor in the public health crisis has been the role of physicians in prescribing huge volumes of the highly addictive pain medication.

Some doctors have been accused of turning their medical practices into “pill factories”

; – routinely prescribing controlled substances without medical necessity and outside the bounds of normal professional practice.

There have been divisions in lower courts over the standard by which doctors can be convicted of violating a federal law called the Controlled Substances Act, which regulates many substances, including painkillers such as opioids, for prescribing off-limits prescriptions.

Ruan, who practiced in Alabama, and Kahn, who practiced in Arizona and then Wyoming, were sentenced to 21 and 25 years in prison, respectively, in separate criminal cases.

Prosecutors said that Ruan, together with a business partner, ran a clinic in Mobile that issued almost 300,000 prescriptions for controlled substances from 2011 to 2015 and was one of the US prescribers of certain fentanyl-based pain medications.

Prosecutors said he accepted returns from drugmaker Insys Therapeutics Inc. to prescribe a fentanyl spray to patients. Insys founder John Kapoor was later convicted of conspiring to bribe doctors including Ruan for prescribing the drug and tricking insurance companies into paying for it.

Prosecutors said Kahn regularly sold prescriptions for cash and illegally prescribed large amounts of opioid pills, resulting in at least one patient dying from an overdose.


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