Breaking News
Get Actionable Insights with InvestingPro+: Start 7 Day FREE Trial Register here
Investing Pro 0
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

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

World Jun 27, 2022 07:05PM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court is in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday made it harder for prosecutors to win convictions of doctors accused of running "pill mills" and excessively prescribing opioids and other addictive drugs, by requiring the government to prove that defendants knew their prescriptions had no legitimate medical purpose.

The 9-0 ruling, authored by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, sided with Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn, who argued that their trials were unfair because jurors were not required to consider whether the two convicted doctors had "good faith" reasons to believe the numerous opioid prescriptions were medically valid.

While both doctors were registered under the a U.S. law called the Controlled Substances Act to prescribe such drugs to their patients, prosecutors at their trials argued that the prescriptions fell outside the usual course of professional practice.

Breyer, who is retiring at the end of the court's current term in the coming days, wrote that once the doctors produced evidence that they were authorized to dispense drugs like opioids, prosecutors needed to prove they knowingly or intentionally acted in an unauthorized manner.

Breyer said a decision by a doctor registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration to intentionally prescribe addictive drugs in an unauthorized way would be illegal, not the prescriptions themselves.

"We normally would not view such dispensations as inherently illegitimate; we expect, and indeed usually want, doctors to prescribe the medications that their patients need," Breyer wrote.

The justices, though, declined to decide whether jurors were sufficiently instructed in Ruan's and Kahn's cases or, if not, whether the mistakes were harmless. The Supreme Court sent the cases back to two federal appeals courts that had upheld the convictions for further proceedings based on Monday's ruling.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing on behalf of himself and fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, said he agreed with the decision's bottom-line result but said its reasoning could result in "confusion."

Beau Brindley, Kahn's lawyer, said the ruling "totally changes the landscape of these prosecutions" by requiring proof that doctors knew they were committing a crime when they write prescriptions.

Ruan's attorney did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.

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

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

Some doctors have been accused of turning their medical practices into "pill mills" - routinely prescribing controlled substances without a medical necessity and outside the bounds of a normal 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 with a business partner ran a clinic in Mobile that issued nearly 300,000 controlled-substance prescriptions from 2011 to 2015 and was one of the top U.S. prescribers of certain fentanyl-based pain medications.

Prosecutors said he accepted kickbacks from drugmaker Insys Therapeutics Inc to prescribe a fentanyl spray to patients. Insys' founder, John Kapoor, was later convicted of conspiring to bribe doctors including Ruan to prescribe the drug and defraud insurers into paying for it. The Supreme Court on June 13 rejected Kapoor's bid to overturn his conviction.

Prosecutors said Kahn regularly sold prescriptions for cash and unlawfully prescribed large amounts of opioid pills, resulting in at least one patient dying of an overdose.

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

Related Articles

Suspect indicted in stabbings of homeless New Yorkers
Suspect indicted in stabbings of homeless New Yorkers By Reuters - Aug 16, 2022

By Randi Love NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City man accused of stabbing a pair of homeless men, one of them fatally, in Manhattan parks was indicted on three counts, including...

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email