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Prescription Fraud

Prescription Fraud and Doctor Shopping – Health and Safety Code § 11173

Prescription fraud and doctor shopping charges in California are common as the epidemic of prescription drug addiction has risen to new levels. The phrase “doctor shopping” is associated with someone going to numerous medical health care professionals in an attempt to secure multiple prescriptions for a controlled substance.  It's considered a type of prescription fraud that is defined under California Health & Safety Code Section 11173.

While a doctor could commit prescription fraud by over-prescribing or selling a controlled substance, a patient could also face criminal charges for doctor shopping if they obtain, or attempt to obtain, several prescriptions not medically necessary, or if they give false statements to a medical professional about important factors.

California Health and Safety Code § 11173 list penalties for any patient for patients who, by using fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation obtain, or an attempt, a prescription from a physician for any controlled substance.

It should be noted that if a patient conceals a material fact that is significant for a doctor to determine whether they should issue the patient a prescription, it's also considered fraud that carries penalties under HS 11173.

To give readers other useful details about the drug crime of prescription fraud and doctor shopping described in Health and Safety Code § 11173, our criminal defense lawyers are outlining the law below.

Definition of Prescription Fraud 

As stated above, California Health and Safety Code 11173 provides a definition of prescription fraud:

No person shall obtain, or attempt to obtain controlled substances, or procure, or attempt, a prescription for controlled substances using fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or by concealment of a material fact.

In simple terms, HS 11173 makes it a crime to do any of the following:

  • To obtain, or attempt to obtain, a controlled substance
  • To procure, or attempt to procure the administration, of a controlled substance
  • To use fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or to conceal a material fact

Common prescription drugs in Health and Safety Code 11173 prescription drug fraud cases include Xanax, Codeine, Vicodin, Oxycodone, Valium, Morphine, Adderall, and more.

It should be noted you can still commit this form of prescription fraud even in a situation where no prescription was actually involved.

You can still be convicted of prescription fraud under Health & Safety Code 11173 if you didn't actually obtain a controlled substance, or a prescription for one. In other words, just the attempt to do so is a crime.

It's also a prescription fraud crime under HS 11173 if a patient gives a false name or address in connection with a controlled substance prescription.

Examples of HS 11173 Prescription Fraud

Let's say a drug addict makes a doctor's appointment for a false reason they experiencing severe pain after a recent injury. However, in truth, they only want to obtain a prescription for a painkiller due to the fact they have an addition for that substance.

Since they made a false statement to a doctor claiming they need the medication to control the pain, they have committed a prescription fraud crime under HS 11173, even is a situation where the doctor finds out about the fraud and refuses to provide them with a prescription.

As you can see, as discussed above, the alleged patient doesn't need to get possession of the medication, or the prescription itself, to be found guilty of prescription fraud defined under Health and Safety Code § 11173.

In another example involves “doctor shopping,” where a legitimate patient needs some type pain medication. A related crime includes California Penal Code 550 healthcare fraud.

Let's say the patient received a valid and legal painkiller prescription from one doctor. However, they soon become addicted to the painkiller and start making appointments with several other medical professionals for the sole purpose to obtain more prescriptions for the same painkiller, or other similar medications.

However, the patient conveniently fails to tell the other doctors they are under the care of another physician who already provided them with a prescription for the same painkiller they are now requesting. Under this scenario, it's also considered prescription fraud and they could face charges for violating Health and Safety Code § 11173.

Penalties for Health & Safety Code 11173

Doctor shopping or prescription fraud in violation of Health and Safety Code 11173 is a “wobbler,” which means the prosecutor can file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. Their decision is based on the specific circumstances of the case and the defendant's prior criminal history.

The potential punishment with a Section 11173 depends on whether a felony or a misdemeanor is charged.

If convicted of misdemeanor HS 11173 prescription fraud, the penalties include up to one year in the county jail and a fine.  A felony conviction carries a sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in a California state prison.

Prefiling intervention in doctor shopping cases is crucial as presenting a strong defense position before court can sometimes convince the filing deputy to file a misdemeanor case rather than a felony.

Related California Offenses for HS 11173

Health & Safety Code 11350 – Possession of controlled substance
Health & Safety Code 11352 – Sale or transportation of controlled substance
Health & Safety Code 11353 – Prescribing drugs without legitimate purpose
Health & Safety Code 11368 – Forging or altering a prescription
Health & Safety Code 11162.5 – Counterfeiting a prescription blank
Vehicle Code 23152(c) – Driving while addicted to a drug

Fighting Health & Safety Code 11173 Prescription Fraud Charges

If you have been charged with prescription fraud, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use a wide range of strategies in to obtain the best possible outcome on the case. The most common defenses includes:

You didn't have a fraudulent intent

One of the most common defenses to a prescription fraud case under Health and Safety Code § 11173 is that you lacked fraudulent intent. Recall under the elements of the crime that that you must have used fraud, deceit, etc. in order to be convicted.

In our case example about the drug addict seeking painkillers, perhaps you simply told the doctor you wanted a prescription, but they didn't exercise due diligence, and you never used fraud, deceit, or had a fraudulent intent.

If you were honest about visiting other doctors and having obtained prescriptions, it's the doctor's responsibility not to provide a another prescription. Again, the crucial factors are making false statements with the fraudulent intent to obtain the prescription.

If you have been charged with doctor shopping or prescription fraud under Health and Safety Code § 11173, call our criminal defense lawyers to review your options. We serve clients throughout Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles area and the San Fernando Valley.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Our Santa Monica office is located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. 

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