Bill would hold some doctors criminally liable in opioid crisis

A Georgia bill would make doctors criminally liable for not checking a prescription database.

As lawmakers continue to grapple with the growing opioid addiction crisis that has hit Georgia and much of the country, some critics say one bill currently being debated by state lawmakers may be going too far. Senate Bill 81, which, as the Newnan Times-Herald reports, recently passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and is now being debated on the floor of the Senate, would make doctors criminally liable if they fail to check a database that is designed to track a patients' history of prescriptions. Some doctors have described the move as heavy handed and as potentially having unintended consequences.

Criminal liability for doctors

The bill requires doctors who prescribe certain drugs, including opiates and benzodiazepines, to register with a state database that gives doctors and pharmacists access to a patient's prescription history. That database is designed to ensure that patients who have an opioid addiction aren't able to shop around for doctors who may not be aware of their past drug use and therefore more willing to write them another prescription.

The proposed law would give doctors a six-month grace period during which they could become familiar with the database and how to use it. After those six months are up, however, any doctor who ignores the database or intentionally does not use it when prescribing certain drugs could face criminal charges. The law exempts certain types of doctors, including those involved in palliative care. Staff members in the doctor's office who are delegated with the task of checking the database could also face criminal charges if they fail to check it or ignore the information it provides.

Controversy about the proposal

Making doctors criminally liable for failing to check the database in question has led to plenty of controversy. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, one lawmaker who voted against the bill and who is himself a doctor warned that doctors may inadvertently find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they have to prescribe a drug in an emergency situation and forget to check the database beforehand.

While opioid abuse is certainly a major problem, criminalizing the actions of some doctors may not be the best way to deal with the issue, according to groups representing doctors in the state. They say that mistakes such as the one Senate Bill 81 deals with should be referred to the Georgia Composite Medical Board, which can punish doctors without resorting to criminal charges.

Criminal law

Criminal charges of any sort need to be taken very seriously. Anybody facing such charges should get in touch with a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help clients understand what rights they have and how best to approach their case so as to minimize the impact that being charged with a crime may otherwise have on their lives.