SCOTUS to weigh good faith defense in illicit prescription cases

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REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

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(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases over whether doctors charged with illegally distributing prescription drugs can defend themselves by arguing that they acted in good faith.

Xiulu Ruan, who practiced in Alabama, and Shakeel Kahn, who practiced in Arizona and Wyoming, were both found guilty of prescribing opioids in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act and sentenced to 21 and 25 years in prison, respectively.

Both told the court that the juries in their cases should have been instructed that prosecutors had to prove they intended to act outside the bounds of normal professional practice in order to find them guilty.

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Kahn's lawyer, Beau Brindley, said the appeal was a chance to make it clear that "making an unreasonable mistake about treatment is not enough to render a medical practitioner's acts criminal."

Ruan's lawyer, Lawrence Robbins, declined to comment. The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Federal appeals courts are divided on the issue, with some holding that doctors cannot be convicted for writing prescriptions that they sincerely believe are in the bounds of professional practice; others holding that the belief must be reasonable; and still others finding that doctors' beliefs are irrelevant.

Ruan was one of several doctors around the country convicted of taking kickbacks from now-defunct Insys Therapeutics Inc to prescribe its fentanyl spray Subsys, part of a federal investigation that resulted in jail time for the company's executives.

The cases are Ruan v. United States, No. 20-1410, and Kahn v. United States, No. 21-5261, in the U.S. Supreme Court.

For Ruan: Lawrence Robbins of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner

For Kahn: Beau Brindley of the Law Offices of Beau B. Brindley

For the government: not available

Read more:

Alabama doctors lose bulk of appeal in 'pill mill,' Insys kickback convictions

Insys founder, others lose appeals of opioid convictions

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.