SCOTUS considers doctors’ appeal against conviction for unlawful prescription opioids

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by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) – The US Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the appeal of two doctors convicted of unlawfully dispensing large amounts of pain-killing opioids in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, i24 News reports.

Amid a perilous opioid crisis in the US, the case has widespread implications for physicians and patients as the Justices consider what is the boundary between lawful medical care and unlawful drug dealing.

The appeal to the Supreme Court is being made by Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn, physicians whom prosecutors say misused their medical licenses to engage in drug trafficking.

Ruan is accused of dispensing almost 300,000 controlled-substance prescriptions from 2011-2015 and of taking commissions from drugmakers to prescribe fentanyl spray. Khan was charged with selling prescriptions for money and unlawfully prescribing large amounts of opioids.

Ruan and Kahn were both convicted by a jury of unlawfully dispensing enormous amounts of opioids through “pill mills” clinics, i24 News said. Khan was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment and Ruan to 21 years in jail.

In their appeal, Ruan and Kahn argue that the jury convicted without properly considering whether they had a “good faith” reason to believe the prescriptions they were dispensing were valid.

Commenting on the case, the National Law Review explains: “Given that the statute requires the “knowingly or intentionally” unauthorized distribution of a controlled substance, the Supreme Court is expected to permit the good-faith defense.

The only question remains: To what extent? If a doctor honestly believed the prescription was for a legitimate medical purpose, should that absolve the conduct, or should the belief be judged on an objective standard?”

Notably, on Tuesday Chief Justice Roberts questioned why jurors should consider what doctors believe about the validity of their prescriptions.

“How is that different” than if police pulled over a driver for going over a speed limit who then argued that the speed limit should be higher, Chief Justice John Roberts asked.

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