Criminal charges unlikely for prescribing opioids

Criminal or administrative charges and sanctions for prescribing opioid analgesics are rare, according to a recent study.1 In addition, there appears to be little objective basis for concern that pain specialists have been "singled out" for prosecution or administrative sanctioning for such offenses, the study found.

The study was conducted by the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, MO, the Federation of State Medical Boards, and the National Association of State Attorneys General.

The authors identified criminal and administrative cases of these types between 1998 and 2006. They analyzed the numbers and types of cases and physicians involved, criminal and administrative charges brought, case outcomes and sanctions, specialties, and other characteristics of the physicians involved.

The authors found that 725 doctors, representing about 0.1% of practicing patient care physicians, were charged between 1998 and 2006 with criminal and/or administrative offenses related to prescribing opioid analgesics. About 39.3% were general practice/family medicine physicians, compared with 3.5% who were self-identified or board-certified pain specialists. Physicians in this sample were more likely to be male, older, and not board-certified. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) criminal and complaint investigations averaged 658 per year (2003-2006) and "for-cause" surrenders of DEA registrations averaged 369.7 (2000-2006).


  1. Goldenbaum DM, Christopher M, Gallagher RM, et al. Physicians charged with opioid analgesic-prescribing offenses. Pain Med 2008; 9:737-747.