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As the number of fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers grows, so does the number of doctors who are facing criminal charges for overprescribing painkillers and other controlled medications, Reuters reports

The issue has gained attention in light of the upcoming trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray. Prosecutors have charged him with involuntary manslaughter, which could be punishable by two to four years in prison, for his role in the drug overdose death of the music star.

There have been an estimated 37 reported criminal cases against doctors between 2001 and 2011, according to Reuters. Most recent cases involved overprescribing painkillers and other controlled substances.

Many of these cases have been brought under the Controlled Substances Act, and similar state laws. In order to prove a doctor is guilty under the law, the prosecution must prove the physician knowingly and intentionally prescribed the drug outside “the usual course of professional practice” or not for a “legitimate medical purpose.”

Jackson’s doctor is not being charged with violating  a controlled substances law because propofol, the anesthetic he is accused of giving to Jackson, is not a controlled substance. Instead, prosecutors say he breached the standard of care when he administered the drug to Jackson at home, and his gross negligence caused the singer’s death.

Diane Hoffmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, notes doctors who treat patients with chronic pain are in a tough position, relying on their patients to tell them how much pain they are suffering from. “Doctors are not supposed to be law enforcement agents. They’re supposed to believe their patients,” she said.


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