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Is it unlawful to prescribe a controlled substance for a friend or acquaintance?

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When you’re a doctor, your friends ask you for advice. What if they ask for a prescription? Is it legal to prescribe a medication for a friend or acquaintance? Our attorneys explain.

Can I write a prescription for a friend?

You can write a prescription for a friend if they are not a close friend. However, be careful – medical ethics rules say that most friendships prevent objectivity which is required to write a valid prescription. It may be okay in an emergency or if the person is just an acquaintance. If you choose to write a prescription for a friend, you must keep detailed medical records.

Is it illegal to prescribe medication to a friend in South Carolina?

It is illegal to prescribe medication to a friend in South Carolina if it is a close friendship. The South Carolina Code of Regulations Chapter 61-4 § 1204 says that a medical professional usually cannot acquire a valid physician-patient relationship with a close friend because they cannot be objective.

Of course, at some point, every physician is going to end up treating someone that they know. Doctors live in a community, and they may see their patients at their children’s school, Rotary meetings, church or the grocery store. South Carolina law does not prohibit treating and writing prescriptions to these acquaintances. You’re also free to say hi to these people when you see them out and about. When a person is more than an acquaintance, medical ethics laws may be more stringent about writing prescriptions.

How are South Carolina authorities charging doctors who write prescriptions for friends?

South Carolina authorities are relying on South Carolina law § 44-53-370(a) and § 40-47-110 to charge doctors who write prescriptions for friends.

§ 44-53-370

  • 44-53-370 is the law that prohibits unlawful possession and distribution of drugs, including Schedule I narcotics. Law enforcement cites the prohibition of unlawful possession and distribution of Schedule IV drugs included in the law. The law is not specific to doctors – It prohibits anyone from distributing, dispensing, aiding, abetting, or conspiring to unlawfully possess or distribute a controlled substance.

A violation of § 44-53-370 is a criminal offense. It is a misdemeanor or felony, depending on whether the offender has a prior conviction.

§ 40-47-110

In addition to criminal law, authorities are using professional licensing laws to go after doctors who write prescriptions for friends. § 40-47-110 allows state officials to take licensing action against a doctor for several reasons:

  • A drug crime conviction
  • Dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct that is likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public
  • Violating the code of medical ethics
  • Failing to cooperate in an investigation of the board
  • Improperly managed medical records

In the context of writing a prescription for a friend, some of the grounds for discipline are indirect. The actual allegation of writing the prescription may not stick – But then, authorities come in and review the records-keeping process. You may not have kept great records because the transaction involved a friend.

Similarly, allegations like engaging in unethical conduct leave open a lot of room for interpretation. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced attorney to thoroughly understand the charges you’re facing and bring a defense against the entirety of the allegations.

What are the penalties for writing prescriptions for friends in South Carolina?

Penalties for writing prescriptions for friends in South Carolina are:

  • For a first criminal offense charged under 44-53-370, a misdemeanor is punishable by up to three years in jail and a $3,000 fine. An offender is eligible for a suspended sentence, probation, community supervision, and the like.
  • For a second criminal offense charged under 44-53-370, a felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a $6,000 fine. The offender is eligible for probation, work release, and community supervision programs.
  • Licensing sanctions may include:
    • Suspension
    • Revocation or cancelation
    • Mandatory education
    • Monetary fines
    • A reprimand – public or private
    • Probation
    • Restrictions on what the doctor may do in practice

In a criminal matter, the jury determines innocence or guilt. If the jury decides to convict, the judge then determines the sentence. For licensing proceedings, a majority vote of the board determines the appropriate action to take.

What is the burden of proof for writing a fraudulent prescription for a friend?

If charged criminally, the burden of proof for writing a fraudulent prescription for a friend is beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the same as it is in all other criminal cases. For licensing actions, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence.

Can you fight charges of writing a prescription for a friend?

Yes, it is possible to fight charges of writing a prescription for a friend. There is no law in South Carolina that specifically prohibits writing a prescription for a friend. Rather, law enforcement uses a law that prohibits the unlawful distribution of schedule IV substances that applies to everyone. Then, they must prove that the circumstances involving a doctor and friend were unethical to the point that they were criminal.

This uncertainty leaves plenty of room for reasonable doubt. But you must work aggressively to explain the circumstances. An experienced attorney can help you dissect the state’s case, explain your actions, and help the jury understand the flaws in using generic controlled substances laws to prosecute medical professionals.

Do I need to respond to the allegations?

If you’re charged with a crime or facing a licensing action, it’s important not to ignore the proceedings. Failing to appear in court can result in an arrest warrant. A criminal conviction can be used as grounds for license sanctions. Even failing to cooperate in a medical ethics investigation is grounds for discipline. It’s important to work with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to address the charges promptly directly.

Attorneys for Doctors Charged with Writing a Prescription for a Friend

At Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey, LLC, Attorneys at Law, we have experience handling cases of medical professionals charged with writing prescriptions for friends and family. Your career, livelihood and reputation are at stake. Our attorneys are prepared to help you fight criminal charges and any potential action against your medical license. Do not wait to contact us to begin your case.

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