New Alabama Law Cracks Down on "Doctor Shopping;" Huntsville Drug Defense Lawyer Explains Consequences for Prescription Drug Abuse Suspects

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House Bill 152, which makes it a crime for a patient to not inform a doctor writing him or her a prescription that he or she has valid prescription for the same or a similar drug by another doctor at the same time, went into effect August 1. Huntsville drug defense lawyer Andrew Segal said the law is meant to crack down on the practice of "doctor shopping" and has serious penalties, particularly for repeat offenders.

A new law in Alabama criminalizes a patient intentionally and knowingly not informing a doctor prescribing the patient medicine if they are currently prescribed medication with a similar effect from another doctor. Huntsville drug defense lawyer Andrew Segal said the law is intended to allow prosecutors to pursue people who are "doctor shopping."

"Prescription medication is legal to buy and possess with a valid prescription, but people sometimes become addicted, use prescription drugs recreationally or seek prescriptions so they can sell the drugs," Segal said. "This law is meant to make that illegal and give prosecutors a way to pursue charges."

The legislation, House Bill 152, was sponsored by Rep. April Weaver and signed by Gov. Robert Bentley in a broad effort to reform prescription drugs in Alabama.

Under Alabama law, prescription drugs, like Xanax, Oxycontin, Vicodin, Valium, Adderrall, codeine or morphine, are controlled substances for which one can legally carry with a valid prescription. Without a valid prescription, a person may face drug possession charges.

Some people, however, may have a valid prescription for a certain amount of a painkiller, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication or other prescription drug and want more than what their doctor recommends. They may go to another doctor and inform him or her about their condition, not informing the doctor of the current prescription the other doctor gave them.

This practice is known as "doctor-shopping," and it is what the new law is attempting to crack down on, Segal said. Under the new law, this practice is a Class A misdemeanor, and if convicted, a person may face up to a year in jail. For a fourth or subsequent offense within five years, the charges go up to a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The charges are separate from any possession charge, and may be pursued if the patient even attempts to obtain a prescription without informing the doctor of a similar one, Segal said.

Segal said that while prescription drug abuse is a problem, this law could lead to unfair prosecutions of patients who simply do not understand what they are being prescribed.

"Some people with serious conditions are prescribed multiple medications and require multiple doctors, and may become confused about who is prescribing what," said the Huntsville drug defense attorney. "I'm concerned that this law could lead to criminal accusations for people who make mistakes or forget to mention to doctors what medication they may be on."

Segal said the "intentionally and knowingly" element will be a key aspect of challenging prosecution.

"Prosecutors must prove every element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that includes, in this case, that the accused intentionally and knowingly deceived his or her doctor," he said. "If they cannot prove that, the jury must acquit."

Andrew Segal, of the Law Offices of Segal & Segal, is a Huntsville criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor who represents those charged with drug offenses, marijuana defenses, sex crimes or any other criminal accusation.

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Andrew Segal
since: 11/2012
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