Drug Convictions and Health Care Professionals

Health Care Providers and Drug Use: The Consequences of Conviction. A Washington Criminal and Administrative Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.

Criminal drug convictions can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  From simple possession arising from automobile roadside searches… to pat and frisk events to impaired behavior … or sting operations, forged prescription scripts, hospital theft and possession of another’s medication. Drug use can be limited to recreational or specific situations of pain management, abuse and full blown addiction. Private evaluations can help assess what your situation is and what steps need to be taken to treat it.

As attorneys | lawyers who understand and practice criminal defense we have helped clients and their families come to grips with accusations in these settings and know the first step in helping clients who are health care providers is to shed light on how criminal drug convictions interact with health care licenses.

Criminal System.

The criminal court system is interested in (1) conviction and punishment, (2) deterring behavior and (3) rehabilitation … generally in this order.   That being said, aside from dismissal, plea negotiations or prevailing at trial, there are programs in the criminal system that our criminal defense attorneys occasionally recommend that can help with addiction, like Drug Court or DOSA Sentences, that can help avoid or mitigate criminal convictions (Completing Drug Court that will result in dismissal of a criminal charge but will still be a problem in the Washington State Department of Health’s eyes.  The same is true with mitigating sentences via a residential DOSA sentences which can prevent almost all jail time, but again, entering them will impact a health care license).

In some ways, the criminal system is simple to deal with.  With enough experience, judges and the negotiation process with prosecutors are fairly predictable, especially when your lawyers represent a credible trial threat.   Unfortunately, the Washington State licensing agencies are not as simple.

Washington State Department of Health’s Adjudicative Service Unit

The Washington State Department of Health does not work on convicting individuals beyond a reasonable doubt, and their duties and responsibilities are broader than, and not as simple as, that of the criminal system.  The Washington State’s Department of Health’s goals are to give the state and public confidence and assurances of accountability to the various practices of health care while assuring safety.  Towards this end, boards, commissions and the Washington State Department of Health sanction “unprofessional conduct”.For this purpose, Washington State’s Department of Health relies almost exclusively on the Uniform Disciplinary Act , the Standards of Professional Conduct, guidelines adopted by any of the boards and commissions and the Administrative Procedure Act to decide what is the appropriate sanction for criminal convictions while giving health care practitioners their “due process”. Within this framework, there are sanction schedules specifically for Diversion of Controlled Substances or Legend Drugs, Substance Abuse and criminal convictions in general as well as a list of Aggravating and Mitigating Factors that are used, along with guidelines adopted by a specific board or commission, to guide the sanction process.

Any violation of any drug law, current misuse of alcohol, controlled substances or legend drugs is considered unprofessional conduct.  Washington State law requires a health care professional to mandatorily self-report any conviction, determination or finding that he or she has committed unprofessional conduct. If such behavior is self-reported, accompanying such a report with professional evaluations and strict adherence to any treatment recommendations is essential to getting results.  If loss of professional license is not enough “reality” to consider changing your behavior and re-evaluating how you self-assess your situation, you might want to reevaluate your thinking, accept help and learn more about addiction.

If you have not been convicted or admitted to facts supporting unprofessional conduct, in general, there is no mandatory responsibility to self-report (unless there is a “finding” of fact against you).  That being said, this general piece of advice must be considered carefully with your defense attorney | lawyer. In some circumstances it may make sense to report a situation to assure that the one is not found to be deceptive or be caught off guard at a later point when a state agency decides to take action on the same facts you successfully avoided criminal conviction on (they can do this). It also may make sense to “draw the sting” and look for the licensing authority to offer a proposed stipulation for an informal resolution of the allegations that avoids license revocation, suspension, censor or reprimand, or proactively seek out a voluntary substance abuse monitoring programs.  One must carefully and objectively weigh all the facts and circumstances before making a decision when handling drug convictions or accusations with the Washington State Department of Health. There are catch all provisions in the Mandatory Reporting Standards of Professional Conduct that require health care professionals to objectively self assess whether or not they are “successfully managing a mental or physical condition and as a result poses a risk to patient safety”. The problem with abuse or addiction is such behavior requires a degree of self-deception so trusting one’s own assessment isn’t always the best course of action.  Our office has relationships with a number of independent, confidential treatment providers who can help you assess your situation and give independent third party input.

The defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled a wide variety of complicated cases in the criminal and administrative arenas over the course of our lengthy legal careers. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know cases are rarely as simple as the police reports or accusations claim. Our clients hire us because they want staunch, uncompromising and effective counsel who takes the time to fight vigorously for the right result. Whether acting in our role as counsel, advocate, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience working and fighting to resolve situations and cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.