The opioid abuse epidemic has led to a number of legal efforts to prevent improper access to prescription medications. In Maryland, this includes provisions in the criminal code that make it illegal to improperly prepare or present supposed prescriptions. How this law works is illustrated by an unreported opinion filed this week in Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a case called Darren Lynn Hawkins v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that a car driven by a woman with a male passenger pulled into a drug store drive through, whereupon the passenger handed a prescription for the narcotic Percocet to the driver who gave it to the pharmacist. The male passenger leaned back so that the pharmacist could not see him, but another pharmacy employee who knew the Defendant saw him and later identified him. The pharmacist, who knew the handwriting of the physician whose prescription it was, saw that the signature did not look like that of the doctor and that it was for the wrong strength and dosage for that drug.
When the car returned to pick up the prescription, the pharmacist wrote down the driver’s license information of the passenger, and then told them the prescription was invalid and could not be filled, whereupon the car drove off. At trial, the doctor testified that the defendant was not his patient and he would not write prescriptions for people he had not seen, but that the form may have been taken from his prescription pad. After the jury convicted the Defendant of violating criminal prescription laws, he appealed.
One of the issues on appeal involved how the State proves violation of the criminal law for “making, issuing or presenting a false or counterfeit prescription or written order.” The defense argued that the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the prescription was false or fraudulent. As the opinion notes, “when a defendant attempts to fill a counterfeit prescription made out to himself, it may rationally be inferred that he knew it to be false.”
Here, where the forged prescription was presented by the defendant with his name on it, when the doctor had not written it, attempted to conceal himself from the pharmacist and left when told the prescription was invalid, there was sufficient evidence to prove a violation of the law.
This illustrates just one law that can be used to attempt to prevent unlawful efforts to obtain prescription narcotics.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.