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Supreme Court sets higher burden for prosecutors in opioid over-prescriptions

The Supreme Court ruled prosecutors must prove that doctors "knowingly or intentionally acted" in an unauthorized way to be convicted for overprescribing opioids. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/3cf7d86e7322a74d3a9e311270e9c9f7/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The Supreme Court ruled prosecutors must prove that doctors "knowingly or intentionally acted" in an unauthorized way to be convicted for overprescribing opioids. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

June 27 (UPI) -- A Supreme Court ruling on Monday set a higher burden of proof to prosecute doctors accused of overprescribing opioids.

The court held in a 33-page opinion the government "must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly or intentionally acted in an unauthorized manner."

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The high court ruled in 1975 that doctors can be convicted under the Controlled Substances Act if they prescribed in ways "outside the usual course of professional practice."

More recently, amid the opioid crisis that has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States between 1999 and 2020, courts have started upholding convictions of doctors found guilty of prescribing in dangerous ways regardless of their intent.

The case involved two doctors, Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn, who were convicted in trial court and sentenced to at least 20 years and 25 years in prison, respectively, for unlawfully dispensing and distributing drugs in violation of federal law.

Ruan and Kahn each contested jury instructions at their trials pertaining to intent, while the government argued that requiring it to prove that doctors "knowingly or intentionally acted not 'as authorized' will allow bad-apple doctors to escape liability," the opinion showed.

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Justices returned the physicians' convictions to the lower courts for further review of jury instructions based on their new ruling.

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