An unfortunate byproduct of the relentless opioid epidemic is the lengths an addicted person will go to obtain prescription medications. One particularly cruel and unusual case involved a Kentucky woman who intentionally cut her dog with razor blades twice to obtain Tramadol, an opioid pain medication intended for dogs.
In fact, this act of abusing animals for the sake of obtaining opioids became so problematic that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning and developed a resource for veterinarians to monitor how and to whom they prescribe pet opioids.
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“Veterinarians should have a safety plan in the event they encounter a situation involving opioid diversion or clients seeking opioids under the guise of treating their pets,” states the FDA-developed resource kit, The Opioid Epidemic: What Veterinarians Need to Know.
Veterinarian shopping to obtain opioids appears to be a more recent and unusual phenomenon, but the practice of writing fake prescriptions is more common. So much so, that states across the country have enacted various penalties for prescription forgery.
In essence, if you are convicted of forging a prescription to obtain opioids or other prescription drugs, the maximum penalty you can expect is a felony conviction and up to five years of jail time.
Even more concerning is that this behavior is indicative of a substance abuse addiction where treatment may be your only way out.
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Think you can’t afford treatment? Think again! Insurance can cover up to 100%!
The Story of Opioids and Prescription Forgery
All told, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 400,000 people have died from an opioid overdose between 1999-2017, making the opioid epidemic the deadliest drug crisis in American history.
There is a predominant narrative that gives depth and dimension to that toll. It’s how a potent class of drugs was able to rapidly produce addiction, overdose, and death for hundreds of thousands of people, ripping families and entire communities asunder.
There is also the means to which addicted persons will go to secure opioids. Opioids are some of the most common drugs forged on prescriptions
How did this happen?
Before the 1990s, physicians reserved opioids for only the most acute forms of pain, to be employed in the event of cancer or end of life care. However, in the 1990s, policies for prescribing opioids changed.
Advocates were able to successfully lobby state lawmakers and medical boards to lift prohibitions on opioid use for non-cancer pain. Thanks to the efforts of pharmaceutical companies, advocacy groups, and pain specialists, opioids started to be prescribed for common ailments such as back and knee pain.
It meant that more people could get their hands on prescription opioids like OxyContin to treat pain, whether that came from a car accident or a fall at home. For many, the need to alleviate pain declined into dependence, and addiction, where securing more opioids by any means, including prescription forgeries, became common.
What Is Prescription Fraud and Forgery?
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a resource guide for pharmacists that examined prescription fraud. The guide lists the types of prescription fraud that occur and the signs of a forged prescription.
The five types of fraudulent prescriptions, according to the DEA, include the following:
Legitimate prescription pads are stolen from physicians’ offices, and prescriptions are written for fictitious patients.
Some patients, to obtain additional amounts of legitimately prescribed drugs, alter the physician’s prescription.
Some drug abusers will have fake prescription pads from a legitimate doctor printed with a different call back number that is answered by an accomplice to verify the prescription.
Some drug abusers will call in their own prescriptions and give their own telephone number as a call back confirmation.
Computers are often used to create prescriptions for nonexistent doctors or to copy legitimate doctors’ prescriptions.
The DEA also warns of certain instances that indicate a prescription may not be legitimate:
- The prescriber writes significantly more prescriptions (or in larger quantities) compared to other practitioners in your area.
- The patient appears to be returning too frequently. A prescription that should have lasted for a month in legitimate use is being refilled on a biweekly, weekly, or even a daily basis.
- The prescriber writes prescriptions for antagonistic drugs, such as depressants and stimulants, at the same time. Drug abusers often request prescriptions for “uppers and downers” at the same time.
- The patient appears presenting prescriptions written in the names of other people.
- Some people appear simultaneously, or within a short time, all bearing similar prescriptions from the same physician.
- Numerous “strangers,” people who are not regular patrons or residents of your community, suddenly show up with prescriptions from the same physician.
What’s more, a prescription that looks too good, where the handwriting of the prescriber looks too legible, could be an indication of forgery. Other giveaways include: the quantities, directions, or dosages prescribed differ from the usual medical usage; another one is when a prescription does not have medical abbreviations or does not comply with “acceptable standard abbreviations or appear to be textbook presentations.”
“Scripts” that appear photocopied or have been written in different color inks or handwriting are also characteristics of forgeries, according to the DEA.
Other Types of Prescription Drug Fraud
There are other ways people can illegally obtain prescription drugs.
Besides stealing a physician’s pad and forging prescriptions, people can create fake prescriptions on computers, and they can alter an existing prescription. They can impersonate a physician to get prescriptions, purchase fake prescriptions online, or engage in doctor shopping, where they visit multiple doctors to obtain many prescriptions.
Doctors and pharmacists have also participated in prescription drug fraud by writing unusual or illegal prescriptions or defrauding insurers. In 2018, the U.S. Justice Department charged 162 people, including 76 doctors, for their roles in dispensing illegitimate opioid prescriptions and narcotics.
The investigation involved 30 state Medicaid programs and numerous enforcement agencies. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the bust “the largest healthcare fraud takedown in American history.”
The Justice Department said the alleged fraud and false billings accounted for 13 million illegal opioid dosages. Overall, authorities estimated that the fraud resulted in over $2 billion in losses.
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Common Drugs On Forged Prescriptions
Forged prescriptions are most commonly associated with drugs that are frequently abused. People who want to abuse drugs and who want to sell drugs illegally are the most likely to use a forged prescription. The most common drugs on forged prescriptions are usually psychoactive and able to cause euphoria or some other desired effect. Here are some of the drugs that are most commonly found on forged scripts.
Opioids are probably the most common illicitly used prescription. They can cause powerful euphoric effects and compulsive addictive behavior. Codeine is the most commonly used drug in a variety of medications, but morphine, methadone, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers may show up as forged prescriptions. Due to the opioid crisis, opioid drugs have become increasingly regulated, and usual tactics like doctor shopping may be less effective for illicit prescription users.
Prescription stimulants include amphetamines like Biphetamine, Dexedrine, and Adderall and methylphenidates like Concerta and Ritalin. In high doses, they might cause feelings of exhilaration, alertness, and euphoria, but they are more likely to be used for their cognitive enhancement abilities. Prescription stimulants that are usually used to treat ADHD are illegally used to boost performance in academics. They are popular on college campuses by students who are seeking to improve their grades and study more effectively. Stimulants can increase your energy, wakefulness, mental awareness, and memory retention. Prescription stimulants can cause psychosis, panic attacks, rapid breathing, and cardiovascular complications in high amounts.
Central nervous system depressants are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, but they can also cause intoxication that’s similar to alcohol. Prescription depressants include sleep aids like Ambien, benzodiazepines like Xanax, and barbiturates like amytal. Depressants can cause sedation, reduced anxiety, lowered inhibition, slurred speech, poor coordination, confusion, dizziness, and lowered blood pressure. In high doses, they can be dangerous. When the drugs are mixed with other depressants, alcohol, or opioids, they can lead to respiratory depression and death. Long-term use can lead to chemical dependence and addiction. Large prescriptions that last more than a month or two or accompany other depressants are red flags.
The Risks and Penalties for Altering a Prescription
The penalties for using fake prescriptions vary state by state, and they can be classified as a misdemeanor or felony. However, prescription drug fraud can be considered a third or fourth-degree felony, according to FederalCharges.com. A third-degree felony could mean three to five years in prison. A fourth-degree felony could also mean up to 18 months in prison. What’s more, offenders can be fined up to $30,000.
Treatment May be a Good Option if you Are Writing Fake Prescriptions
Forging a prescription to obtain drugs is considered a sign of addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Why? Because it is indicative of compulsive, drug-seeking behavior. What’s more, given the legal ramifications that prescription forgery entails, the act also shows a willingness to obtain and use drugs in the face of adverse consequences.
If you or a loved one is engaging in this sort of behavior, the best way to break your addiction is through professional addiction treatment. Professional treatment can provide a full range of comprehensive therapy, counseling, and support to break the cycle of addiction.
You can also get connected with other people in recovery, who can help you stay sober.
Get Help Today
At Serenity at Summit, we offer a range of treatment options and resources to help you conquer your addiction and attain a hope-filled life.
Center for Veterinary Medicine. (n.d.). Resources for You - The Opioid Epidemic: What Veterinarians Need to Know. from https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/ucm616944.htm
National Health Care Fraud Takedown Results in Charges Against 601 Individuals Responsible for Over $2 Billion in Fraud Losses. (2018, July 09). from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/national-health-care-fraud-takedown-results-charges-against-601-individuals-responsible-over
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics
Opioid Overdose. (2018, December 19). from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
Origins of the Opioid Epidemic. (n.d.). from https://www.optum.com/resources/library/origins-opioid-epidemic.html
Prescription Drug Fraud Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations. (2018, October 04). from https://www.federalcharges.com/prescription-drug-fraud-laws-charges/