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Supreme Court Ruling on Controlled Substance Prescribing

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Ruan v United States case narrows the risk physicians face as a result of their prescribing practices, according to a Viewpoint article in JAMA. Several physicians had appealed their convictions of violating the Controlled Substances Act, claiming that lower courts had “wrongly allowed them to be convicted under the CSA without requiring proof that they had intentionally prescribed drugs in an unauthorized manner.”

The high court agreed with the physicians and ruled that evidence for criminal prosecution must be beyond a reasonable doubt. “While this heightened standard should not impede prosecutions of physicians who operate so-called ‘pill mills,’ the standard will provide significant protection to physicians who prescribe in good faith,” the Viewpoint author wrote. “As the Supreme Court has acknowledged, the purpose of the CSA is to prevent drug trafficking, not to regulate the quality of physicians’ prescribing practices. By limiting criminal prosecutions to physicians who intentionally prescribe drugs for improper purposes, the Ruan v United States decision leaves the regulation of medical practice to state licensing boards and the civil justice system. Physicians who harm patients through negligent prescribing practices can be held liable for damages through civil lawsuits.…

“The authority to prescribe drugs is a weighty responsibility for which physicians should be held accountable. Promoting responsible prescribing is essential to mitigating an opioid epidemic that continues to harm both patients and their communities. But there are better ways to address that problem than by prosecuting negligent physicians as drug traffickers. By narrowing the scope of criminal liability in favor of more constructive and effective approaches to promoting responsible prescribing, the Court’s decision in Ruan v United States can be a victory for physicians and patients alike.”

Source: JAMA