Tragic news events on Long Island have made the public increasingly aware of the threat posed by prescription drug trafficking and abuse.  In June 2011, four people were killed by a man robbing a Medford pharmacy for prescription painkillers.  On New Year’s Eve, an ATF agent was killed trying to stop a robbery at a pharmacy in Wantagh.

Last month, Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, joined with the District Attorneys for the Counties of Kings, Richmond, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk to announce a comprehensive joint initiative to combat the growing threat of prescription drug trafficking and abuse.  Federal and state prosecutors announced charges filed against 98 defendants in federal court and in all five counties.  The federal prosecutions included a Great Neck doctor charged with distributing oxycodone to individuals he knew were reselling pills to addicts, and a Baldwin doctor charged with issuing oxycodone prescriptions to individuals he knew were addicted to drugs and without medical examinations.

Use of Forfeiture and Other Tools

U.S. Attorney Lynch said that prosecutors would address the growing problem by using every tool at their disposal, including civil forfeiture and injunctions in addition to criminal prosecutions.  One of the forfeiture tools available to prosecutors is forfeiture of the medical license of doctors involved in prescription drug trafficking.  In United States v. Singh, the Second Circuit held that the Government could forfeit a doctor’s medical license under 21 U.S.C. § 853(a), for violation of the Controlled Substances Act.  In Singh, the doctor’s criminal conduct included pre-signing prescription forms and providing them to non-physicians to use and provide to patients without any involvement by a physician.

Forfeiture laws permit the Government to forfeit the proceeds of Controlled Substances Act offenses and the property used to facilitate those offenses.  The forfeiture of a doctor’s medical license in appropriate cases is a particularly effective tool in combatting prescription drug trafficking and abuse.  In the wake of the pharmacy killings over the last year, it is likely we will see aggressive use by the Government of its forfeiture remedies, such as the forfeiture of medical licenses, to punish the doctors who engage in health care crimes and to deter others from committing health care offenses.