Opioid Prescribing

Legal Pearls: US Supreme Court Raises Bar for Prosecuting Physicians Who Prescribe Opioids for Pain

  • The Decision

    The Supreme Court ultimately vacated the lower court’s decision and remanded the case back to the original court for a new trial. The Court held that if a defendant physician produces evidence that his conduct is authorized, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant physician “knowingly or intentionally” acted in an unauthorized manner. In other words, the burden is on the Government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the physician had the required “mens rea” (culpable mental state) to commit a crime.

    The Bottom Line

    “Criminal law generally seeks to punish conscious wrongdoing,” wrote the Court in the decision. This decision will be welcomed by many physicians as it makes it harder for the Government to criminally prosecute physicians who are, or believe they are, writing legitimate prescriptions. 


    Ann W. Latner, JD, is a freelance writer and attorney based in New York. She was formerly the director of periodicals at the American Pharmacists Association and editor of Pharmacy Times.