Judge’s Ruling Could Affect Patient Brokering Cases

Patient brokering at drug treatment centers has become an ongoing issue in the state of Florida. Investigations led by several news outlets have uncovered the real crooked nature of these centers such as the practices at Whole Life Recovery. This has led to numerous legislative attempts to deter large patient-brokering operations, which is a type of healthcare fraud.

Many treatment centers hire “body brokers,” which are people who are paid to look for addicts. These “junkie hunters” are compensated for referring potential patients to their treatment centers. Once the center has admitted the unaware addict, they can then charge their insurance company outrageous rates. Some have even reported drug tests ordered by treatment centers to cost $5,600.

In 2018, State Attorney David Aronberg responded to this issue with the Florida Patient Brokering Act. The new legislation has led to numerous arrests and convictions, which caused a number of drug treatment centers to close their doors.

Since Aronberg’s act, numerous notable drug treatment centers have been linked to patient brokering. Additionally, the act may have also led to a decline in fatal drug overdoses. Aronberg recently presented data from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner. The data demonstrated a decrease in fatal drug overdoses from 2017 to 2018. The report states the number of opioid-related deaths in Palm Beach had dropped from 588 in 2017 to 326 in 2018.

While the operation has been successful, it comes with some challenges. Some offenders have argued they were unaware of Florida’s patient brokering laws because they’re so new. Others state they were given bad counsel from attorneys when setting up their drug treatment centers. However, the current statute does not list ignorance of the law as an admissible defense. Now, a new ruling by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Laura Johnson may drastically change David Aronberg’s plans.


What Does the Ruling Mean

Johnson’s ruling is for the current case State of Florida vs. James Francis Kigar. The case surrounds a Boynton Beach treatment center operated by Kigar called Whole Life Recovery. Over the last two years, law enforcement officials in Palm Beach County have been investigating allegations of fraud, money laundering, kickbacks and patient brokering related to the center.

Kigar is now facing a total of 95 counts linked to patient brokering and other relevant crimes. He has pleaded not guilty by stating he was unaware of Florida’s patient brokering laws. Kigar claims he was wrongly informed by his attorney to pay kickbacks for referrals. Judge Laura Johnson responded to this case with a controversial ruling.

Johnson stated in a six-page order that, “A defendant may assert the advice of counsel defense when charged with violations of the Florida Patient Brokering statute.” She also ruled the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant was aware their actions were illegal.

Judge Johnson’s ruling is based on a legal term called “mens rea,” which states a person must know what they’re doing is wrong to be charged with a crime. The ruling basically states the defendant must have intended to commit a crime. This is controversial because the issue of intent isn’t included in the current Florida Patient Brokering Act.

Judge Johnson’s new standard could undo many prosecutions sought under David Aronberg. A defendant could escape criminal charges if they’re able to prove the crime was unintentional. The ruling may also drastically change the path of Kigar’s case, which was looking grim beforehand.

The Impact of Judge Johnson’s Ruling

Johnson’s ruling could tremendously affect David Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force. It may lead to a number of appeals and dismissals for previous patient brokering cases in the Palm Beach area. In addition, it may establish a new standard in how the State Attorney can prosecute future kickback cases involving drug treatment centers.

Assistant State Attorney Justin Chapman plans to ask Judge Johnson to reconsider her decision. If she denies the request, Chapman may file an appeal with the Fourth District Court. However, there’s been no word of that from the State Attorney’s Office.

Many are hoping the appellate court will untangle Johnson’s ruling to decide the fate of future patient-brokering cases. If Judge Johnson retains her ruling, prosecutors will have a much harder time convicting a person of patient brokering. People who have taken bad advice or were unaware of Florida’s patient-brokering laws will not be legally punished for the crime.
This blog was last updated on March 6th, 2019.

Florida May Pass Stricter Distracted Driving Laws

Cellphones and other electronic devices have become a staple in our daily lives. The majority of the time these instruments help us navigate the world around us. However, many people use their electronic devices recklessly while they’re driving. This has become a dangerous growing trend for the state of Florida. The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reported that there were 50,190 accidents related to distracted driving in 2017.

Florida lawmakers are hoping to pass a new bill for tougher distracted driving laws. Current legislation does have a texting-while-driving ban implemented under Section 316.305 of the Florida Statutes. The law itself is controversial though and has been accused of being toothless. This is because Florida is one of only four states that doesn’t allow police officers to pull someone over for looking at their electronic device.

In 2018, a similar bill was sponsored but died while in the Senate. Some representatives believe the reason for this was because the bill wasn’t very clear. It instead focused on making texting while driving a primary offense. The 2018 bill did nothing to address other distracted driving actions such as talking on the phone or perusing social media.

Now, lawmakers are attempting to pass a new proposal to toughen up distracted driving laws. House Bill 112 (HB 112) provides a lot more clarity. The bill addresses all types of distracted driving, not just texting. Some of these include speaking into an electronic device, e-mailing, instant messaging, or reading with your electronic device. If the bill passes, then distracted driving laws in Florida will be significantly stronger. This means more traffic violations for Florida residents and possible charges for multiple offenses.


What Does the Bill Say?

House Bill 112 amends and adds new provisions to Section 316.305 of Florida’s Statutes. The section would be renamed from “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law” to “Florida Ban on Wireless Communication Devices While Driving Law.” The purpose of this is to incorporate all distracted driving devices such as electronic watches or tablets.

If HB 112 is approved, then you wouldn’t be allowed to use a wireless communication device at all. Even speaking into the device could result in a nonmoving violation. The only acceptable way to utilize your wireless communication device under HB 112 is if it’s in “hands-free” mode. Basically, if you’re holding your wireless communication device you could receive a nonmoving violation.

The bill is very similar to legislation active in California. Both Senate Bill 1213 and Senate Bill 28 were enacted into law in July 2008, so the legislation has been in effect for nearly ten years. While distracted driving has declined, the problem unfortunately still exists. A press release by the California Highway Patrol stated there were 97,000 citations issued for distracted driving in 2017. Data also indicates 22,000 drivers were involved in distracted driving collisions that year.


The Problem with HB 112

Distracted drivers cause serious injuries and sometimes fatalities every year. Florida lawmakers have decided to respond to this issue with stringent legislation. On the surface, this bill seems to be a good idea, but it could also impose an influx of unnecessary citations on Floridians.

If HB 112 passes into law, then police officers could pull you over for simply picking up your phone. The implementation of this law may leave many Florida residents with traffic tickets. People with multiple violations could have issues with their insurance or simply be unable to pay the full cost of the ticket.

What’s even more unsettling is the ineffectiveness of hands-free mode. The National Safety Council argues using a hands-free device requires the same amount of brain processing power as texting and driving. Both activities require the driver to split their attention, meaning you’re just as likely to get into an accident talking on hands-free than if you’re sending an electronic message.

If this is true, then HB 112 doesn’t solve the problem of distracted driving by allowing hands-free. Instead, our legislation would be imposing a law that doesn’t lessen distracted drivers and requires officers to waste time issuing unneeded tickets.

It’s important we keep Florida roads safe. However, it’s just as imperative we implement thoughtful legislation that attacks every avenue of the problem. We’re still unsure of the fate of HB 112 and it’s possible amendments. Hopefully, Florida lawmakers will alter the bill so it can effectively tackle the issue of distracted driving.
This blog was last updated on March 6th, 2019. 

Florida May Lift Ban on Smokable Medical Marijuana

In 2016, Amendment 2 or the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative was approved into law by voters. The legislation allows Floridians to use medicinal cannabis for certain conditions such as glaucoma, epilepsy and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Although Amendment 2 legalized medical marijuana, it still doesn’t allow patients to smoke it.

Currently, Florida law only permits patients to consume marijuana in four ways. You can ingest cannabis pills, use tincture forms, apply a topical cream or inhale the substance through a vaporizer. Unfortunately, Florida still has a smoking ban on all medical marijuana products. It’s impossible to buy cannabis in pre-rolled cigarettes or as a whole-flower from a dispensary.

Now, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is giving legislation an ultimatum. He’s threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision which found the smoking ban violated a constitutional amendment. The republican governor has given lawmakers a deadline to fully address the issue, or he’ll drop the appeal altogether. The court must determine if the smoking ban is unconstitutional or not by March 15th, which is 10 days after the annual legislative session begins.


Why Smokable Marijuana?

Many medical marijuana patients wish they had access to smokable cannabis products. The reason for this is because of the different effect smoking marijuana has in comparison with vaping or ingesting it orally. When you smoke marijuana, you’re burning the whole plant. Therefore, all the chemical compounds and terpenes found in the cannabis will turn into an inhalable smoke.

Vaping or ingesting marijuana orally creates a different outcome. If you’re vaping, then you’re consuming whatever compounds of the plant the manufacturer put into the oil. This means you may not be as affected by vaporizing as you would if you smoked the whole-flower. Orally ingesting marijuana is effective but can take up to an hour to finally work.

Because of this, some medical marijuana patients believe they’ll fare much better on smokable marijuana. They claim the concentrates and oral forms of medical marijuana are not powerful enough to soothe their medical condition. If the smoking ban on medical marijuana is lifted, then patients would have more freedom in how they choose to consume their medicinal cannabis.


How Likely Is It Florida Will Lift the Smoking Ban?

Lifting the smoking ban on medical marijuana is a hot topic on Florida’s Capitol Hill. Senate Bill 182 (SB 182) has already undergone some changes since its proposal on February 13th, 2019. Originally, doctors were required to have a “case review panel” before they’re able to order smokable marijuana products for patients. The doctor would be required to attend a panel run by the Board of Medicine to determine if their patient requires smokable medical cannabis.

This was withdrawn, however, when Representative Ray Rodrigues offered an alternative proposal. Instead, doctors would provide documentation which proves the patient would benefit from smoking medical marijuana. The doctor would then be required to submit these documents to the state Board of Medicine rather than appear in front of a case review panel.

Rodrigues’s amendment also requires dispensaries to sell smokable marijuana in pre-rolled cigarettes. If implemented, the amendment would ban patients younger than the age of 18 years old from smoking medicinal cannabis. Both of these provisions were added to address concerns about the negative health effects associated with smoking.

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Jeff Brandes, added an amendment to the bill. Children who wish to smoke medical marijuana must obtain approval from a pediatrician. The only exception to this is if they’re terminally ill. Additionally, Brandes’s amendment would allow people in nursing homes, hospices, and assisted living facilities to smoke medical cannabis.

The subject of smokable medicinal marijuana is a hot topic with a possible resolution in sight. Jeff Brandes stated to The News Service of Florida after the Senate committee meeting, “We’ll ultimately find a place to land this… I think the March 15th deadline no longer seems out of reach.” The bill may seen controversial, but it has a lot of unexpected support. There’s a large likelihood that smokable medical cannabis may be on the market within the next year.
This article was last updated on March 6th, 2019.

What We Know About the Robert Kraft Prostitution Scandal

Robert Kraft along with 300 other people have arrest warrants issued for them for soliciting prostitution in Florida’s Treasure Coast. Florida police in multiple counties conducted coordinated sting operations to arrest men who visited massage parlors for illicit sexual services. Kraft was arrested in Jupiter, in Palm Beach County, an area known for its affluent community and its million-dollar playgrounds for the rich which includes President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Palm Beach County police have claimed the operations were meant to stop human trafficking but there seems to be little evidence from the arrest affidavit that human trafficking was ever a concern for investigators.

In fact, none of the women who operated, Orchids of Asia Day Spa, the Asian massage parlor where Kraft was said to have frequented, were charged with human trafficking crimes.

The Investigation

The lead detective in the Orchids of Asia bust, Andrew Sharp, started his investigation after communicating with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office which had been working several massage parlors in Martin County. The investigation in Martin County tipped off Detective Sharp to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.

Sharp then began his investigation of Orchids by searching through reviews of the establishment where patrons claimed sexual services were provided. Sharp relied on one website in particular, Rubmaps.com, a forum that specifically is meant to provide details and reviews for illicit massage parlors. Based on postings on that site that detailed clients paying for “hand jobs,” sharp began surveillance of the business.

His surveillance went for a week where he observed men enter the establishment and he logged how long they were inside.  After his week of surveillance, Sharp sent in a Florida Department of Health inspector to inspect the business. The health inspector noticed that there appeared to be two rooms with beds and dressers that appeared to indicate that women were living on the premises, the only oblique indication of human trafficking in the arrest affidavit.

Sharp and two other detectives then decided to conduct a “trash pull” where they rummaged through the dumpster behind the massage parlor looking for evidence. What they found was several white grocery store bags. According to Sharp, white grocery bags are a telltale sign of an illicit massage business.

Going through the bags, Sharp and his team found ripped up sheets of papers that seemed to be a ledger of some sort as well as several plastic napkins that “appeared to be covered in seminal fluid.” Sharp had the napkins tested and they were found to be positive for seminal fluid.

After a second trash pull, Sharp began another round of surveillance where he interviewed men leaving the establishment. Each of the men divulged that they had paid for and received sexual services inside the massage parlor.

Gathering this information lead to a search warrant that allowed for Sharp to secretly install video cameras in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. For five days Sharp and his team watched men receiving sexual services in the spa and cataloged the encounters, all of which are in the report. Since the Johns are only described by their clothing, it is hard to tell which of the documented encounters was Kraft from the affidavit.

The Charges

While police departments in large scale prostitution arrests and sting operations in Florida often cite stopping human trafficking as the primary reason for conducting these arrests, rarely are human trafficking rings ever busted up from these arrests. In fact, in this particular operation, there have been no human trafficking charges brought. The two proprietors of Orchids of Asia Day Spa, Hua Zhang and Lei Wang, were charged with operating a brothel, hiring prostitutes, and for engaging in prostitution.

Kraft and the others who have warrants for their arrest or have been arrested already are being charged with solicitation of prostitution.

What Happens Now?

The attorneys of Meltzer and Bell are well experienced in prostitution offenses and several of our attorneys have already spoken to the media about what is the likely outcome for Mr. Kraft. Ari Goldberg, one of our attorneys who once was a Palm Beach county prosecutor explained that first time offenders arrested for solicitation are facing the lowest level misdemeanor in Florida. A second-level misdemeanor has a maximum punishment of 60 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Steven Bell, one of our named partners, explains further that in all likelihood Robert Kraft, who has no prior history and is a first time offender, will not plead guilty and will instead negotiate for a diversion program which may include community service, testing, and educational programs. As long as Mr. Kraft follows through with the program his charges will be dismissed.

If you have been arrested for a prostitution related offense, reach out to the attorneys of Meltzer and Bell to start your defense with experienced criminal litigators.

Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell Commit to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

It is an honor to announce that Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell have committed to being Life Members of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). Founded in 1958 the NACDL prides itself on protecting the rights of Americans. The NACDL believes in a fair and just judicial system that caters to every economic class and social status. Members of the NACDL commit to supporting the due process rights for anyone accused of a crime. They also uphold a high level of integrity for the criminal defense profession, and always promote the fair direction of the criminal justice system. The NACDL is also highlighted by thousands of esteemed private lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel members, judges, and law professors. This acclaimed membership has now been made into a lifetime calling for Mr. Bell and Mr. Meltzer so that they may advance the cause of protecting legal rights for the criminally accused for years and years to come. The NACDL’s motto, “Liberty’s Last Champion” is the epitome of what Meltzer and Bell, P.A. hold true. The law firm has been a beacon of light for countless South Floridians facing all types of legal battles. Meltzer and Bell, P.A. understands that the criminal justice system is one that should be handled with the upmost respect not only in regards to the judicial court system, but also for each and every individual that is preparing to face legal actions. Steven and Lawrence promise to preserve their criminal justice standards and to always serve with the equal, sensible, and civilized care one should count on.

Meltzer & Bell P.A. Wins the 2017 Law Firm 500 Award

Law Firm 500 is organization that celebrates the fastest growing law firms in the United States. The year 2017 marks the second annual Law Firm 500 Conference and Gala, where Law Firm 500 celebrated the fastest growing law firms in the country. The law firms were evaluated and ranked in order based on gross revenues covering the span of three years. Moreover, the selection committee looked at each candidate’s tax returns from a set year and compared with the returns from three years later. The candidates were evaluated on: finances, the number of offices, the number of employees, and full financial growth, showing the success of their business over time. Law Firm 500 acknowledges that to achieve these impressive numbers, a firm must be innovative in their business and marketing models, incorporating technological advances and strategic vision. The attorneys and firms on this list, which can be viewed here, have shown unwavering commitment and tenacity in the legal profession. The 2017 Law Firm 500 Awards was presented at the Second Annual Conference Awards & Gala from October 19, 2017 – October 21, 2017 at the Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton, Florida, featuring Keynote Speaker Daymond John. Meltzer & Bell is proud to receive such an amazing honor and will continue to strive for growth and advancement in the services that we provide and in contributing to effectiveness in the legal community.

FHP Releases Sketch of Suspected Hit and Run Driver

West Palm Beach Hit and Run Attorney
WFLX-TV reported on October 13 that the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) released a sketch of a person who could have been involved in a fatal hit and run crash in Boca Raton on Labor Day weekend. The FHP told WFLX that a Chrysler 200 changed lanes and struck a motorcycle driven, causing its 36-year-old driver to lose control and crash. According to the Palm Beach Post, the Chrysler’s driver stopped after the crash but left when paramedics arrived. One witness who spoke to the driver of the Chrysler provided a description to the FHP. “We don’t know why he stayed and then why he left,” FHP spokesman Seargant Mark Wysocky told the Post. “Maybe he heard people talking that the person’s condition was getting worse and maybe he just decided to leave. … There’s so many reasons that people leave the scene, and unfortunately hit-and-runs continue to increase.” WFLX reported that the driver of the Chrysler 200 was wearing a dark, long-sleeved shirt with bright colored shorts. Anybody with information about the crash or the driver is urged to contact the FHP at (954) 308-5929 or Palm Beach Crime Stoppers at (800) 458-TIPS (8477).

West Palm Beach Hit and Run Attorney

Florida Statute § 316.062 establishes that any driver involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property which is driven or attended by any person must give the following information to any person injured in such crash or to the driver or occupant of or person attending any vehicle or other property damaged in the crash and any police officer at the scene of the crash or who is investigating the crash:
  • his or her name;
  • his or her address; and
  • the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving.
Upon request and if available, the driver should also exhibit his or her license or permit to drive. The driver must also render to any person injured in the crash reasonable assistance, including the carrying, or the making of arrangements for the carrying, of such person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if such carrying is requested by the injured person. Under Florida Statute § 316.027, any person who fails to fulfill the requirements of Florida Statute § 316.062 following an accident resulting in injury to a person other than serious bodily injury commits a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If an alleged offender leaves the scene of a crash resulting in serious bodily injury, hit and run is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. When an accident results in the death of any person, leaving the scene is a first-degree felony punishable by a minimum of four years up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. One of the most common defenses against hit and run charges in Florida is an alleged offender’s lack of knowledge. The Supreme Court of Florida held in State v. Dorsett, 158 So. 3d 557 (Fla. 2015) that “the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver had actual knowledge of the crash, an essential element of the crime of leaving the scene of a crash.” If you believe that you might be under investigation or you were already arrested for an alleged hit and run offense anywhere in Palm Beach County, it is in your best interest to immediately retain legal counsel. Contact Meltzer and Bell, P.A to have our experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers review your case and answer all of your legal questions.

Teen Suspected in Carjacking Charged as Adult

West Palm Beach Carjacking Defense Lawyer
The Palm Beach Post reported on September 29 that the West Palm Beach Police Department said a 17-year-old was being charged as an adult in a reported September 4 carjacking near Good Samaritan Medical Center. The teenager was transferred to the Palm Beach County Jail on September 27 following his September 5 arrest on allegations of armed carjacking, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest. City police told the Post that the teenager stole a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta at gunpoint on the night of September 4 before leading police on a chase that exceeded speeds of 100 mph. A 31-year-old man told police investigators that the teenager was accompanied by a man in his 40s who climbed into the passenger seat, but the Post said the arrest report neither identified the teenager’s accomplice nor whether that person had been arrested. The car chase ended in the area of Seventh Street and Division Avenue, according to the Post. The teenager and his accomplice got out of the vehicle and ran, but police K-9 and helicopter units canvassed the area and found the teenager hiding in the backyard of a home. The Post reported that the Volkswagen positively identified the teenager as the carjacker. According to the post, the 17-year-old is among more than a dozen Palm Beach County juveniles to be transferred to the adult court system in the past year after being charged with carjacking.

West Palm Beach Carjacking Defense Lawyer

Minors may have their criminal cases transferred from the juvenile justice system to the adult court in the following circumstances:
  • Grand jury indictment for felony criminal offense punishable by death or life imprisonment;
  • Discretionary waiver asking juvenile court to hold hearing to determine whether child should be transferred for criminal prosecution;
  • Direct file of criminal charges in the circuit court’s criminal division whenever, in the state attorney’s “judgment and discretion,” the public interest requires it; or
  • Statutory exclusion (under Florida Statute § 985.556, any child convicted and sentenced as an adult is thereafter handled in every respect as an adult for any subsequent violation of state law).
In a 2014 report, the international non-governmental human rights organization Human Rights Watch said 98 percent of all children who ended up in the adult court system did so as the result of Florida’s direct file statute. The review found that more than 12,000 children were moved from the juvenile to adult court system in the preceding five years—more than half of whom were charged with non-violent crimes. In 2017, State Senators Bobby Powell and Darryl Ervin Rouson co-introduced Senate Bill 192 (SB 192), which sought to limit the discretionary power prosecutors wield in charging juveniles as adults in Florida. The bills ultimately died in Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. The juvenile justice system is a much more preferable venue for alleged offenders because it often focuses more on rehabilitation than punishment for juvenile charges. If you or your child has been arrested for any kind of criminal offense in Palm Beach County, you will want to immediately seek the help of the experienced Palm Beach criminal defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A.

Polk County Sheriff Threatens to Jail Evacuees with Warrants

On August 26, the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) began monitoring a tropical wave over the western coast of Africa that moved off the coast of the continent and organized significantly over the next few days. The NHC classified the disturbance as Tropical Storm Irma on August 30 before Irma strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane on September 4 and a Category 5 hurricane the following day. One day after Irma reached Category 5 status and two days after Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd posted the following series of tweets to his official Twitter account on September 6: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, the state affiliate of the national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, posted this tweet in response to Sheriff Judd’s tweets: As many residents of Florida are forced to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their safety, it is indeed cruel to possibly imprison those seeking shelter because of an outstanding warrant. As the ACLU correctly noted in its statement, many people with active warrants are not only unaware that they have such warrants, but the reasons for the warrants are forgotten or possibly offenses unknown to the alleged offenders such as traffic tickets or missed court dates.

West Palm Beach Warrants Attorney

Many arrest warrants are bench warrants issued for failure to appear for scheduled court dates. Arrest warrants will be issued in criminal cases when law enforcement agencies have submitted evidence to a judge establishing that they have probable cause to believe that the alleged offenders named in the warrants committed criminal offenses. When a warrant is issued in Florida, people cannot simply wait it out. Warrants will not go away. Worse yet, information about warrants is shared between law enforcement agencies all over the state and across the nation. If you have an active warrant in South Florida, it is possible that you could be arrested during a traffic stop in a completely different part of the country. As Hurrican Irma nears the Sunshine State, you should do whatever you have to do to keep yourself and your family safe. No person should have to let an active warrant deter him or her from seeking appropriate shelter. If you know or think that you have an active warrant for your arrest in Palm Beach County, you will want to retain legal counsel for help determining a resolution that will allow you to avoid the embarrassment of a public arrest. Contact Meltzer and Bell, P.A today.

Drug Monitoring Program Expands throughout U.S. to Thwart Doctor Shopping

Prescription fraud, commonly known as doctor shopping, is a huge problem throughout the United States, including Florida. In 2009 the Federal Centers for Disease Control labeled Florida as the epicenter of prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Nationwide, the prescription drug abuse epidemic has been attributed to lack of prescription monitoring programs and medical personnel oversight. In 2011 Florida enacted the E-FORSE (Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substance Evaluation) program. The program is designed to prevent over prescribing of drugs and doctor shopping.

While reported drug overdoses have declined in Florida, many have criticized the effectiveness of the program citing doctors do not consistently use the program and the program does not have national reach.

In April of 2016, New Jersey legislators announced that the state would expand its prescription drug monitoring program, part of a mass effort to cease out-of-state doctor shopping and prescription drug abuse.  New Jersey joins 7 other states, including South Carolina, New York, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Virginia, Connecticut, and Delaware in this effort.

Under this monitoring program, New Jersey doctors would be able to see a patient’s prescription history within the state and any prescriptions written by other doctors in 7 states. Although Florida does not participate in this interstate monitoring program, Florida criminalizes doctor shopping and could possible join this effort.

What is Doctor Shopping?

Doctor Shopping is the practice, or habit of visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for otherwise illegal drugs. Typically, it’s common practice for drug addicts and suppliers of drug addicts.

A doctor shopper will normally visit multiple health care clinics as a “new patient” or “visiting from out of town” and will exaggerate medical problems in order to obtain prescription medications.

Florida Stat. § 893.13(7)(a), (8), and (9) are the doctor shopping laws that makes it a felony offense to withhold information from a practitioner from who the person seeks to obtain a controlled substance or prescription for a controlled substance when the individual making the request has received a controlled substance or prescription from another practitioner within the previous 30 days.

Prescriptions Drugs Statistics

According to DEA statistics in 2010, the state had over 900 unregulated pain management clinics. Data also showed that these clinics employed 90 of the top 100 oxycodone dispensing physicians in the country.

Of the top 50 oxycodone dispensing clinics in the U.S., 49 were located in Florida and were selling more than 1 million oxycodone pills a month.

Before E-FORSE was implemented by the Florida legislature, it was projected from state medical examiners documents that about 10 individuals each day died of prescription drug overdose, primarily due to oxycodone.

Doctor Shopping Penalties

  • Misdemeanor or felony conviction
  • Up to 1 year in jail or 3 years in prison
  • Up to $20,000 in fines
  • 1-5 years’ probation
  • Community service, an amount determined by the court

Who can be charged?

  1. Any patient who attempts to obtain and/or obtains prescription of a controlled substance through fraud;
  2. Any medical professional who makes a false statement in any prescription, order, report or record;
  3. Anyone who falsely assumes the title of, or represents himself to be a pharmacist, physician, dentist, veterinarian, registered nurse, physician’s assistant; or
  4.  Any person other authorized person and anyone who affixes any false or forged label to a package or receptacle containing controlled substances.

Conclusion

The attorneys of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. are experienced criminal defense attorneys based in West Palm Beach, Florida. The team of attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. defend individuals facing any drug crime, including prescription fraud, drug possession, drug trafficking, drug distribution, and marijuana possession.

Former prosecutor, Lawrence M. Meltzer, and former public defender, Steven K. Bell, possess the knowledge and skill to build the strongest defense on your behalf.  Meltzer & Bell, P.A. diligently defends individuals throughout Palm Beach County, including West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Delray Beach, and surrounding areas.

Contact the Palm Beach Doctor Shopping Defense Attorneys of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. for a confidential review of your case at (561) 283-3259. The partners of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week.