Recently I discussed how to handle a visit from DEA diversion investigators conducting an unannounced administrative inspection. In this follow up I provide insight on how to handle the heaven-forbid situation of DEA Special Agents and other law enforcement officers showing up at your practice with a search or arrest warrant.
Important Things to Know About DEA Search And Arrest Procedures
First and foremost, in this era of aggressive enforcement and sometimes overzealous targeting by DEA agents and government prosecutors, ANY PHYSICIAN who prescribes painkillers or similar narcotics could find themselves in criminal trouble. Therefore, there is no substitute for effective, proactive compliance with the laws of prescribing controlled substances. And often, law enforcement agents think they understand these laws well, when they do not, and agents scrutinize your medical judgment through their own myopic lens. Before trouble hits get the right legal help now, to comply with state and federal prescribing laws.
Second, once agents arrive with a warrant, a lot has already happened, and you are the last to know. A search warrant means a judge has already reviewed documents related to an ongoing criminal investigation of you and your work, and the judge has decided that there is enough evidence of a crime to justify a search of your office, home, storage space, records, etc. An arrest warrant means there is, in the assessment of a judge, enough evidence to take you into custody. Sometimes agents show up with just a search warrant; other times they show up with both.
Often, investigations will have gone on for months, even years, before a raid takes place or a warrant is served. There could be “patients” who made appointments with you to ask for painkillers, and these patients could have been working as undercover informants; you could be on video and audio, or a series of videos or audios. Agents may have been watching you for days or weeks, monitoring your comings and goings, as they prepared to raid your office. They have probably obtained reports of your use or non-use of prescription drug monitoring databases, like California’s CURES system, to see your prescribing patterns. They likely have interviewed pharmacists where a lot of your patients fill their scripts. In many instances, they have obtained your bank records to see how much money you deposit in a given month, whether it’s cash or check, and whether, if cash, you are laundering money. In short, by the time a raid takes place, the investigation could be months or years old.
Third, a raid on an office can often accompany or be followed by a raid on your residence. Both locations will be searched.
Next: 8 Things Physicians Should Do About A DEA Search Or Arrest Warrant