Four years ago, a pain management physician contacted me and told me that two agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) showed up unannounced at his clinic. The agents told the physician he was under investigation for over-prescribing and that things would go better for him if he voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration. The agents told the doctor he can always apply for a new registration at any time. The DEA agents pulled out a form and he signed it. The physician then called me and proudly told me that he had voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration heading off the investigation. Unfortunately, I had to burst his bubble. This physician did everything you should not do. Within a couple of weeks, the physician was facing criminal charges and after four years of trying, has not been able to get his DEA Registration reinstated.
The hard lesson, DEA agents (including all law enforcement officers) do not have to tell you the truth.
Each of you has a property interest in your DEA registration. This means the DEA cannot take your registration from you without due process—right to have notice of the DEA’s intended action and right to a full hearing before a neutral judge. If the judge finds against you, that determination is appealable to a higher court.
DEA agents ask physicians to voluntarily surrender their registrations because by doing so the physician waives their right to due process (notice and a hearing).
If DEA agents ask you to voluntarily surrender your registration tell them no or that you want some time to think about it. They cannot force you to surrender your registration and they cannot penalize you for not surrendering your license. There may be times when it is appropriate to surrender a DEA registration, but do so only after careful consideration and consultation with an attorney.
Nathan Crane is a shareholder at Snow, Christensen & Martineau in their Salt Lake City, Utah office. He represents doctors across the country in licensing matters before the DEA, State licensing boards, and in criminal prosecutions.