U.S. Supreme Court sides with doctors challenging opioid convictions

June 27 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday gave two doctors convicted of abusing their licenses amid the opioid epidemic in the United States to write thousands of prescriptions for addictive painkillers another chance to challenge their convictions.

Judges ruled 9-0 in favor of Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn, who argued while appealing their convictions that their trials were unfair because jurors were not required to determine whether the two doctors had grounds for “good faith” to believe their many opioid prescriptions. were medically valid.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court, said once defendants produce evidence they were licensed to distribute controlled substances like opioids, prosecutors must prove they knew they were acting in an unauthorized manner.

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The judges returned both cases to federal appeals courts that had previously upheld their convictions for retrial, where prosecutors can argue that any errors in their instructions to the jury constituted harmless errors.

The United States has struggled for more than two decades with an opioid epidemic that federal health officials say has claimed the lives of more than half a million Americans.

States have sued drug companies and pharmacies to hold them accountable, but another key part of the public health crisis has been the role of doctors in prescribing massive volumes of highly addictive painkillers.

Some doctors have been accused of turning their medical practices into “pill factories” – routinely prescribing controlled substances without medical necessity and outside the bounds of normal professional practice.

There have been divisions in lower courts over the standard under which doctors can be found guilty of violating a federal law called the Controlled Substances Act, which regulates many substances, including painkillers like opioids. , for writing prescriptions outside the bounds of professional practice.

Ruan, who practiced in Alabama, and Kahn, who practiced in Arizona and then Wyoming, were sentenced to 21 and 25 years in prison, respectively, in separate criminal cases.

Prosecutors said Ruan, along with a business partner, ran a clinic in Mobile that issued nearly 300,000 prescriptions for controlled substances from 2011 to 2015 and was a top U.S. prescriber of certain fentanyl-based painkillers.

Prosecutors said he took bribes from drugmaker Insys Therapeutics Inc to prescribe fentanyl spray to patients. Insys founder John Kapoor was later convicted of conspiring to bribe doctors, including Ruan, to prescribe the drug and to defraud insurers into paying for it.

Prosecutors said Kahn regularly sold prescriptions for cash and illegally prescribed large quantities of opioid pills, resulting in the death of at least one patient from an overdose.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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