Prescription Drug History and the Mental and Physical Evaluation

To help prevent prescription drug abuse and protect the health and safety of Pennsylvania citizens, Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PA PDMP) collects information on all filled prescriptions for controlled substances. This information helps health care providers safely prescribe controlled substances and helps patients get the treatment they need.

PA PDMP’s new initiative seeks to integrate the PDMP system with the electronic health records (EHRs) and pharmacy management systems of all eligible health care entities in Pennsylvania.

As well, as of July 7, 2017, the Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is sharing data with 11 other states and D.C. Interstate sharing of data helps prescribers and pharmacists get a more complete picture of their patients’ controlled substance prescription histories, regardless of which state they filled their prescription in.

In New jersey, on May 1, 2017, the emergency rules that went into effect on March 1, 2017 were readopted by the Attorney General and the Board of Medical Examiners.  These rules concern limitations on prescribing, administering, or dispensing of controlled dangerous substances, with specific limitations for opioid drugs, and establish special requirements for the management of acute and chronic pain.  These limitations and requirements apply to physicians, podiatrists, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives.

These new rules affect how professional licensees prepare for Mental and Physical Examinations (MPE). If you have read my other blogs, you should understand the MPE is a compelled medical doctor Drug and Alcohol evaluation investigating a licensee’s potential impairment and continued ability to practice their profession safely. Licensing board orders compelling MPEs require professionals to provide their medical records. The lookback period for medical treatment and care depends on the nature and extent of a licensee’s medical needs.

Historical surgeries (dental orthopedic, or OB/GYN for example) typically reveal a prescription history.  It is these prescriptions of which the MPE expert is interested. The new PA PDMP discussed above is now a means through which the MPE expert (a medical doctor with access to the database) can learn of a licensee’s prescription drug history.

As a medical doctor, the MPE expert has access to licensees’ historic prescription drug use.  The MPE medical experts can review the  PA PDMP database similar to a treating physician who has a legal obligation to check the PA PDMP  before writing a prescription or a pharmacist prior to dispensing a medication.  The licensee who does not bring corroborative prescription records or provides a false historical record severely taints their credibility in the MPE.

 

Call me to discuss your MPE ordered through your Pennsylvania licensing Board.

 

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What is a “Conviction” – How Important is Drug Court to the Licensed Professional?

In 1999 Tim Kearney was issued his Pennsylvania physician assistant (“PA”) license. In March 2010 he admitted himself into a treatment facility for drug addiction issues.  On August 16, 2011 he plead guilty to the felony Drug Act violation –  securing a prescription by fraud.  At the time of his guilty plea, Kearney acknowledges he understood that by pleading guilty he was  “admitting to committing the criminal charge” as alleged under the Pennsylvania Drug Act.

In December 2011 the Pennsylvania Medical Board automatically suspended Mr. Kearney’s PA license for no less than 10 years pursuant to section 40(B) of the Medical Practices Act of 1985.  This provision requires the Board to suspend any licensee who suffers a felony conviction for violating any provision of Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (CSA). 35 P.S. § 780–113(a)(12).

In December, 2011, Kearney filed in criminal court a petition to vacate his guilty plea and enroll in the county adult drug court program.  In June 2014, after 2 1/2 years in drug court, Kearney petitioned to vacate his guilty plea and dismiss the criminal case.   His request was based upon compliance with all terms and conditions of the program. On June 20, 2014 the county trial court dismissed all of Kearney’s criminal drug charges.  They were subsequently expunged. (This is really important.)

Six months later, in December, 2014, Kearney filed a Petition to Reinstate his PA license based upon the lack of criminal conviction, the expungement, and his extensive drug and alcohol treatment.  This blog discusses the Commonwealth Court opinion approving his petition and reversing the Medical Board’s refusal to reinstate Kearney’s PA license.  The case is found at Kearney v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, — A.3d —- (2017).

The Pennsylvania administrative law hearing examiner denied Kearney’s Petition to Reinstate his PA license. The hearing examiner concluded Kearney’s admission of guilt in the guilty plea colloquy and statement before the presiding judge when the charges were dismissed constitute either a conviction or an admission of guilt pursuant to the Medical Practices Act.  The hearing officer determined Kearney satisfied his burden of proof that he was able to resume his PA practice with reasonable skill and safety to patients, subject to monitoring by the physicians health program.

The Medical Board agreed with the hearing examiner that Mr. Kearney’s PA license remained indefinitely suspended as a result of a “conviction” as defined by the Medical Practices Act.  It did not reach the PHP and monitoring aspect of the decision because it determined Kearney’s license was still suspended.

Kearney appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed. The sole issue on appeal was whether Kearney’s original guilty plea (vacated and now expunged) constituted a conviction and his statements on the record constitute “admissions of guilt“ in accordance with section 40B of the Medical Practices Act.

Commonwealth Court reviewed the Medical Practice Act.  “The Act provides, in pertinent part, that “[a] license or certificate issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon … conviction of a felony under the act … known as [t]he [CSA] ….” 63 P.S. § 422.40(b). Section 40(b) of the Act clarifies that “[a]s used in this section, the term ‘conviction’ shall include a judgment, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere.Id.; see also section 2 of the Act, 63 P.S. § 422.2 (defining “conviction” as “[a] judgment of guilt, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere.

  • Section 43 of the Act further states that “[a]ny person whose license, certificate or registration has been suspended or revoked because of a felony conviction under the [CSA] … may apply for reinstatement after a period of at least ten years has elapsed from the date of conviction.” 63 P.S. § 43.

While the Act provides for automatic suspension of a license for a felony “conviction” under the CSA, the Act incorporates the CSA by express reference. By all reasonable means, this compelled the Court to unify two or more statutes in a cohesive and consistent fashion and avoid interpreting one statute in a manner that repeals or is otherwise incongruous with another statute.

Under section 17 of the CSA, a trial court “may place a person on probation without verdict if the person pleads nolo contendere or guilty to any nonviolent offense under [the CSA] and the person proves he is drug dependent.” 35 P.S. 780–117. (This is a Section 17 plea.)

Importantly, that section also states that “[u]pon fulfillment of the terms and conditions of probation, the court shall discharge such person and dismiss the proceedings against him,” adding that the “dismissal shall be without adjudication of guilt and shall not constitute a conviction for any purpose whatever ….” 35 P.S. § 780–117(3) (emphasis added). Section 19 of the CSA further declares that records of arrest or prosecution under the Act will be expunged. When a court orders expungement, the records “shall not … be regarded as an arrest or prosecution for the purpose of any statute or regulation or license or questionnaire or any civil or criminal proceeding or any other public or private purpose.” 35 P.S. § 780–119(b).

As a surface matter, Commonwealth court observes that a plain reading of the statutes indicates that, while the Act includes an “admission of guilt” as a subpart of the definition of a “conviction,” the CSA commands that a final disposition of “probation without verdict” does not constitute a “conviction.” Under the procedure in section 17 of the CSA for a “probation without verdict,” an individual’s “plea” is, in essence, held in abeyance, or not accepted, until there is a final determination by the court as to whether the individual has satisfactorily completed the terms and conditions of probation; if the individual does so, the trial court dismisses the charges and there is no verdict or finding of guilt in the matter.

Consequently, in order to afford the phrase “for any purpose whatever” in section 17 of the CSA its full linguistic effect, the Court reasonably interpreted it to mean that the oral and written statements made to a trial court in connection with a “probation without verdict” cannot be a considered a “conviction” for purposes of section 40(b) of the Act. To be sure, this construction is the only way in which the term “conviction” in the Act can be harmonized with the same term in the CSA.

Indeed, following dismissal of the underlying charges, the criminal record is expunged pursuant to section 19 of the CSA, and the criminal record cannot be used at all in an administrative licensing matter – not even as proof that the individual  was arrested or prosecuted.  In some statutes, our General Assembly, without using the word “conviction,” has expressly included the phrase “probation without verdict” to describe the basis upon which a licensing board can refuse, suspend, or revoke a professional license.

However, the General Assembly did not insert this or similar language in the Act. Nor did   the General Assembly inject “probation without verdict” alongside “admission of guilt” in the Act’s definition of a “conviction.” Inferentially, the divergence in word usage among the CSA, the Act, and other similar statutes is indicative of the General Assembly’s desire to conceptually separate an “admission of guilt” from a “probation without verdict,” suggesting to courts that the two should not be perceived or linked as being one and the same.

On the whole, Commonwealth Court precedent has clearly concluded as much.   For example, in Carlson, a teacher entered a plea of nolo contendere to charges that he possessed drugs in violation of the CSA, a plea that has “the same legal effect as a plea of guilty in the criminal proceedings in which it is entered.” 418 A.2d at 813. The criminal case proceeded under the provisions of section 17 of the CSA, and the teacher eventually had his criminal record expunged. Although this Court was convinced that the school district properly dismissed the teacher for immorality pursuant to sections 1122 and 1129 of the Public School Code, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended 24 P.S. §§ 11–1122 and 11–1129, we pointed to the special nature and characteristics of the CSA and the probation without a verdict mechanism.

More specifically, the Court explained that when the charges are dismissed following compliance with probation, “no judgment is entered, notwithstanding the fact that the defendant is placed on probation, an act which normally constitutes a sentence, i.e. a judgment.” 418 A.2d at 813. On this basis, we determined that evidence of the teacher’s plea of nolo contendere was inadmissible, and further reasoned that, as a result of the expungement, there was “no criminal record” upon which the trier of fact could determine that the teacher engaged in conduct of a criminal nature. Id. Accordingly, this Court held that the teacher could not be discharged from his employment with the school district as a matter of law.

The crisp and clean understanding of this case is that in any Medical Board supervised license case, for which disciplinary action is based upon a conviction that has been opened and erased due to Drug Court compliance, there is no conviction.  There is no basis to deny reinstatement of a license.  Whether the PHP gets involved is a different question.  This case merely, but forcefully, allows for eligibility for reinstatement once Drug Court is served, complied with, and all charges are dismissed and expunged.

Call me to discuss your case.

 

Living Life to the Fullest Every Day

I woke up this October morning thinking “What can I do on an overcast, somewhat drizzly, muggy,  fall Sunday morning?  Mountain bike riding with biking buddies Rob and Caleb couldn’t have been easier decision.  The complicated question was where to ride in southeastern Pennsylvania.

We – six of us usually – have ridden (and gotten hurt and broke bikes) on multiple trails throughout Valley Forge State Park, Marsh Creek State Park, and the Green Lane Park and Reservoir.  Our local favorite, however challenging, was calling our names this morning. The pictures below do little justice to the beautiful, rugged, stream-studded creek gorge of Philadelphia’s 1800 acre Wissahickon Valley Park.

Starting out with wonderful hot coffee at Caleb’s house on near Elbow Lane, just east of McCallum, we dropped in near Climber’s Rock, riding the eastern side down to Rittenhouse.  From there, Forbidden Drive and the Blue Stone Bridge carried us over the creek and into the heart of the trails.  The three of us, lead by local favorite jeweler Caleb Meyer, climbed the western side near Kitchens – on the yellow trail – for over 8 miles of switch backs, hilly rollers, large rocks and steep inclines. Ever cautious and hoping not to get hurt, we made our way through this fabulous Sunday morning ride.

At Bell’s Mills and then Northwestern we saw the horses, forcing us to reckon with our approaching return trip home.  We crossed back over at Dewees Rock and Germantown Pike.  On this last 1/4 of the ride, worn and beaten down, we stopped several times to savor the scenery.  Waterfalls, covered bridges, and my favorite, the Lenape Chief Tedyuscung Statue.

The Indian Chief is always the highlight of my Wissahickon ride.  It is a challenge to get there, a joy to see, and a true testament to what hard work can achieve.  Leaving the Lenape Indian Chief behind, we headed east, picking our way back to Climbers Rock and Livesy Lane.  I have not ridden this part of the trial.  Each pedal stroke after 150 minutes in the saddle felt great, but exhausting.

We were finishing the last up hill climb to Elbow Lane, looking forward to some fine October-fest libation, when we suffered our first and only casualty of the ride.  Rob’s rear tire exploded with a hiss of exhaustion.  The brief walk out could not dampen our spirits or take the air out our awesome Sunday morning ride.  Thanks guys!  13.4 miles and 1500 elevation, 2.5 hours.

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