DEA AT THE OFFICE DOOR: PART 1 OF 2
In this post, I’ll talk about what to do when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shows up at your medical practice. Part 1 of this two-part series discusses how to handle a visit from DEA Diversion Investigators conducting an unannounced administrative inspection. Part 2 discusses the Heaven-forbid situation of DEA Special Agents and other law enforcement officers showing up with a search warrant.
Diversion Investigators and Administrative Inspection
While any DEA agent is authorized to conduct an unannounced administrative inspection of a medical practice, hospital or pharmacy on the subject of controlled substances, more typically it is Diversion Investigators who pay these visits. Diversion Investigators are not “sworn agents,” that is, they are not peace officers, they are unarmed, and their powers are limited. That hardly means, however, that Diversion Investigators are powerless. Federal law authorizes them to visit any business or institution employing or operated by a DEA registrant (such as a physician with a DEA registration number), or otherwise subject to DEA jurisdiction. Investigators have a right under federal law to compel the business to immediately produce two years’ worth of records of the purchase, storage and dispensing of controlled substances by a registrant, and to ensure that only authorized personnel are handling controlled drugs.
For example, if you are a physician who orders a limited amount of controlled drugs for your patients, and you store or even occasionally dispense a small amount of these narcotics, you are required to maintain in an organized fashion, and for inspection on demand, two years’ worth of records. You are also required to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to the drugs and that the drugs are secure at all times.
Diversion Investigators may require that you set aside all other business and make the records immediately available to them for inspection. Should you not cooperate, the agents are permitted by law to “secure” your office (as in, kick your patients out and make you and your staff wait) while the DEA obtains a full-blown search warrant from a judge and sends several Special Agents to execute it. This often means you are waiting hours for the warrant, and many more hours while the search occurs. It also, of course, means a panicked staff, lost income, possible loss of reputation among patients and colleagues, and you buying more legal trouble for your failure to comply with the law.
Here are 5 things you should you do to make an unannounced administrative inspection go as smoothly, uneventfully and quickly as possible, to avoid disruption to your practice, disturbance to your patients, and to ensure that you comply with the law and are perceived as being in legal compliance.