Investigation finds more than 1,000 doctors disciplined for risky opioid prescribing

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An investigation found more than 150 federal court cases since 2016 in which doctors were prosecuted on drug offenses tied to the prescribing of addictive opioids.

If you think you’ve been seeing lots of headlines about doctors in trouble over opioid prescribing, you’re not wrong.

A national investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified almost 150 federal court cases since 2016 alone in which doctors nationwide were prosecuted on drug offenses tied to the prescribing of addictive opioids.

The investigation also found that more than 1,000 doctors have been disciplined by state medical boards during that same time for risky prescribing of opioids and many of those doctors are still seeing patients.

RELATED: Another physician is indicted for opioid overdose deaths—and the DEA warns it's 'sending a message'

The investigation confirms the fact that amid the country’s opioid epidemic, medical professionals are increasingly facing criminal charges—including murder—when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed. 

The report includes doctors Fierce Healthcare has told you about, including:

  • Henry Wetselarr, a Las Vegas doctor who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a pill mill conspiracy.
  • Robert Gene Rand, a Reno, Nevada, physician who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter of a patient and unlawful distribution of oxycodone.
  • Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, M.D., who faced a trial on murder charges for writing painkiller prescriptions that led to the death of three young men and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

RELATED: Doctor charged with murder for prescribing opioids that killed five patients

The problem is twofold: well-meaning doctors who are trying to help patients in pain but also licensed doctors who have turned into drug dealers. Every month, law enforcement officials are arresting doctors who have gone rogue, prescribing drugs in exchange for cash, sex and for the money to keep their practices afloat, the report notes.

“There are a lot of doctors that are still writing [prescriptions] left and right, and have no scruples and no morals about it,” Vanita Hullander, a coroner in a rural area of Georgia, where there are high rates of opioid prescribing and overdose deaths that go along with it, told the newspaper.

The federal government, along with states, are taking action to try and stop overprescribing of opioids. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stepped up law enforcement efforts to go after doctors and other medical professionals who overprescribe.

RELATED: Attorney General Jeff Sessions targets medical professionals in 12 U.S. opioid epidemic ‘hot spots’

The government is expanding efforts of its Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, and has assigned 12 prosecutors to focus solely on opioid-related fraud cases in a dozen hot-spot locations around the country.

Some states have also imposed legal limits on opioid prescribing. And states are using databases to track prescriptions and flag high-volume prescribers.