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What is Prescription Fraud?

By Ann Olson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Prescription fraud occurs when people obtain prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to them by a medical doctor. This is a crime that can lead to fines and jail time in many countries. People who forge doctor notes, change what is written on a legitimate doctor's note to change the quantity, or bribe their physician to write fraudulent prescriptions are committing fraud. In contrast, people who steal prescriptions drugs are not committing fraud — they are committing theft, which is also punishable with jail time.

There are many reasons that someone might commit prescription fraud. Addiction primarily fuels this crime; people who are addicted to painkillers, for example, may forge prescriptions when they cannot obtain these drugs from another source. Others may want to use prescription drugs for other purposes, such as taking methylphenidate to stay awake longer.

Drugs that help people calm down, create an euphoric high, or help treat pain are sought out the most by people committing fraud. Alprazolam and diazepam are very popular with people who self-medicate their anxiety conditions or want to feel calm before a big event. Teenagers and young adults are more likely to abuse codeine, methadone, and oxycodone.

The most common groups that commit prescription fraud include teenagers, drug addicts, the elderly, and women. In most cases, people decide to obtain a prescription illegally after they obtain it from a fellow family member. Some people may also purchase pills from classmates, friends, or strangers because they are curious about a prescription's off label uses. After they run out of pills, these people may commit fraud in order to obtain more pills.

There are several signs to watch out for when it comes to this crime. Doctor's notes requesting more than the recommended amount of pills for a person's condition is usually a sign of fraud; turning in prescriptions weekly or even daily is also another tell-tale sign of abuse. There is also the appearance of the note to consider. Prescriptions that do not contain abbreviations, illegible handwriting, or are written in inks that doctors don't normally use can be signs of prescription fraud.

If a person is caught and convicted, he or she may get jail time, fines or both, depending on where the crime was committed, how long it was committed, and the person's previous criminal history. If law enforcement officials believe the person is an, they may send the person to a drug treatment facility instead. Complete compliance and completion of the program is necessary, however; opting out can usually mean jail time.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By rugbygirl — On May 01, 2012

There have been many cases of physicians who have knowingly assisted with pharmaceutical fraud. Some pain clinics, for instance, get a bad reputation for over-prescribing narcotics and other controlled substances.

Doctors who consistently go far beyond the guidelines can face stiff penalties, too, including jail time and losing their medical licenses. They are often reported by pharmacies who notice the pattern of too many prescriptions coming in.

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