GEORGIA'S DOCTOR SHOPPING LAW

  


The government is cracking down on the illegal possession of legal drugs. I first noticed this when recently the class of drugs including Hydrocodone was moved from a Schedule III Controlled Substance to a Schedule II. Schedule II Controlled Substances are heavily regulated on both the state and federal level.

The other thing I have noticed is an increase in prosecutions under Georgia’s so called “Doctor Shopping Law.” Doctor shopping is broadly defined as obtaining the same prescription from multiple doctors using multiple pharmacies. It is almost always associated with an addiction to narcotics.

Law enforcement officials say it is becoming a problem in the local community and nationwide. The State of Georgia has implemented a statewide database, Georgia Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (GAPDMP), that can be accessed by law enforcement officials, pharmacists, and physicians to identify individuals who are engaged in doctor shopping.

This program is not supposed to disclose any personal information that would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Law enforcement agencies say that it is a vital tool for pharmacists and physicians to use to identify persons in violation of Georgia law.

Fortunately, there is some judicial oversight concerning GAPDMP. In using this tool, law enforcement officers must obtain a court order to access records.

The Doctor Shopping Law itself is found in O.C.G.A. 16-13-43. More specifically, O.C.G.A 16-13-43(a)(6) provides that it is unlawful:

To withhold information from a practitioner that such person has obtained a controlled substance of a similar therapeutic use in a concurrent time period from another practitioner.

In my opinion, this means that any person who sees 2 or more physicians needs to make sure that each physician is aware of the medications that he or she is currently being prescribed. That course of action seems to be the easiest way to comply with this criminal law.

If a person is convicted of doctor shopping, the penalties are rather severe. That person would be guilty of a felony and may be imprisoned for not more than eight years or fined not more than $50,000.00, or both.

As I stated above, the vast majority of people who engage in doctor shopping are addicted to narcotics or some other controlled substance. These are not “bad people.” I have known and represented some of the finest people you would ever want to meet who became addicted because of a surgery, chronic intense pain, and overprescribing of pain medication.

If a friend or loved one is addicted to prescription medication, there are safe ways to address the problem:

1. Some people who are heavily addicted may require hospitalization to address the issue. Coming off of some medications “cold turkey” can be life threatening;

2. Seeking the advice of your personal physician or a psychiatrist about how to quit using a particular drug will suffice in some cases;

3. There are hundreds of drug treatment centers located in Georgia. They specialize in the treatment of addiction;

4. Seeking counseling with a psychologist who has a background in addictionology; and

5. Attending AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, and other recovery groups can provide the support needed to break a dangerous addiction.

Overall, this is a good law that has probably saved a number of lives. My only concern involves the privacy issues surrounding the GAPDMP program. That is my libertarian side showing itself.

However, sometimes getting caught is the only way to reach a person who is so heavily addicted that their very life surrounds the constant need to obtain more drugs.

If you need help with addiction, by all means take advantage of the multitudes of sources available.