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.

Decriminalization of Marijuana Budding in West Palm Beach

All forms of marijuana are illegal in Florida under state and federal law, but starting in the summer of 2015, a handful of South Florida cities and counties acted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, making possession a civil — instead of a criminal — offense.

Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous county with 2.7 million residents, was the first Florida municipality to decriminalize possession of small amounts (defined as 20 grams or less) of marijuana, followed by the cities of Miami Beach and Key West.

Hallandale Beach, a city of about 40,000 residents in Broward County that shares a border with Miami-Dade, was the first city in its county to approve decriminalization and was followed by West Palm Beach, the largest city in Palm Beach County with about 100,000 residents.

Both Palm Beach County and Broward County (with about 3.25 million residents combined) are poised to join this growing list before the end of 2015 after preliminary approval of decriminalization. Several other Florida jurisdictions are considering similar measures.

In West Palm Beach, the new law (Ordinance No. 4590-15) would give law enforcement officers the option of issuing citations to people in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana (or possession of drug paraphernalia), which imposes a fine of $100 with no arrest, no jail time, no court appearance, and no permanent criminal record — a civil penalty akin to a traffic ticket.

The police have wide discretion under the new laws, but a person suspected of a felony, driving while impaired, a violent crime, domestic violence, or a person with an unpaid citation won’t catch a break under the new law, and will most likely be arrested on a misdemeanor for possession.

Under state law, a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana up to 20 grams may result in up to 12 months one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Possession of more than 20 grams is a felony in Florida, with penalties of up to five years imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or both (Florida Statutes 775.082 and 776.083).

Issuing citations instead of making arrests for marijuana possession frees law enforcement to concentrate on serious crimes and helps to unclog court dockets, advocates for the reforms say.

Attorney for Marijuana Possession Charges in West Palm Beach

If you have been arrested or received a citation for possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach or Broward counties, or anywhere in South Florida, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the local laws to discuss your options and help you make the right decision in your case.

Shift in Attitudes

As national attitudes toward marijuana use evolve and more states, counties, and cities enact laws to decriminalize marijuana, fewer people will face arrest and the consequences of a criminal record, which may adversely affect education and employment opportunities in their future. Some people with a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana have experienced difficulty in obtaining a loan or finding a place to live.

About half of the states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for varying degrees of medical use. The states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized the possession of small amounts of weed for recreational use, as has the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center in March 2015 found that 53 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal (both recreationally and medically), while 44 percent said it should remain illegal. The survey also found that 76 percent said there should be no jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana, while 22 percent favored jail time. Forty-nine percent said they tried marijuana at least once, while 51 percent said they had not.

A Palm Beach Post editorial in July 2015 called the ongoing policy shift toward greater acknowledgement of marijuana use by authorities a “wave of sanity.”

Conflicting Laws

Many legal issues arise with the adoption of these new laws that downgrade marijuana possession from a criminal offense to a civil infraction.

Cities within a county may also opt out if the county adopts decriminalization, meaning that the law on one side of a Florida street may be different than the law in another municipality just across the road, creating a patchwork of laws.

Will state agencies, such as the Florida Highway Patrol, apply state law instead of the local law during a traffic stop in a city that has decriminalized possession of 20 grams or less?

And of course, the law is blind to the “black market” — not everyone grows their own pot; marijuana originated from somewhere and was delivered to an individual somehow. The sale of 20 grams of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor and the sale of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony under state law.

West Palm Beach Ordinance No. 4590-15

On Sept. 13, 2015, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4590-15 after granting preliminary approval two weeks earlier. The exact text of the new law is reprinted below from pages 11-12 of the minutes of the commission meeting:

Public Hearing and Second Reading of Ordinance No. 4590-15 (APPROVED) amending Chapter 54 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of West Palm Beach to provide civil penalties for the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis and for possession of drug paraphernalia.

AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA, AMENDING THE CODE OF ORDINANCES AT CHAPTER 54 (OFFENSES) ARTICLE I, (IN GENERAL) SECTION 54-1 (ADOPTION OF STATE LAWS RELATING TO MISDEMEANORS), PROVIDE CIVIL PENALTIES FOR THE POSSESSION OF 20 GRAMS OR LESS OF CANNABIS (MARIJUANA) AND POSSESSION OF DRUG PARAPHERNALIA; SETTING FORTH PENALTIES AND ENFORCEMENT RESPONSIBILITES; PROVIDING A CONFLICTS CLAUSE, A CODIFICATION CLAUSE AND A SEVERABILITY CLAUSE; PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. Agenda Cover Memorandum No.: 20534 (attached).

Staff Recommended Motion: Approve Ordinance No. 4590-15.

Background: The American Civil Liberties Union reports that when people are arrested for possessing miniscule amounts of marijuana that may have dire collateral consequences that affect their eligibility for public housing and student financial aid, employment opportunities, child custody determinations and immigration status.

Further, the Federal Bureau of Investigation/Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data regarding misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests indicates that in 2010, 77 (percent) of marijuana arrests were of people 29 or younger, 62 (percent) were of people younger than 25, and more than one-third were of teenagers and pre-teens.

Currently, City of West Palm Beach law enforcement officers may either arrest or not arrest a person for the commission of a misdemeanor. This Ordinance will provide an alternative and additional mechanism under the City’s Code to enforce violations that are based upon the commission of certain enumerated misdemeanors.

Law enforcement officers may: (1) issue a civil citation pursuant to this ordinance; (2) arrest; or (3) not arrest a person for the commission of a misdemeanor offense of possession of marijuana and/or possession of drug paraphernalia.

Fiscal Note: No fiscal impact to budget.

West Palm Beach’s marijuana decriminalization law is similar to the others enacted in Florida in 2015, but it is indicative of the change in attitudes about marijuana that the ordinance received widespread support, even from law enforcement.

Find an Attorney for Marijuana Possession in Broward & Palm Beach counties

If you have been arrested or received a citation for possession of marijuana anywhere in South Florida, including Broward County, Florida or Palm Beach County, Florida, contact a local criminal defense attorney at Meltzer & Bell, P.A.. The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. have more than two decades of experience defending clients on criminal charges.

Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell are qualified lawyers who know the nuances of the local laws and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call Meltzer & Bell, P.A. at (954) 716-8538 to set up a free consultation.