On Nov. 5, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court consolidated and granted certiorari to a pair of cases involving physicians who were criminally prosecuted for prescribing controlled substances (specifically, opioids) in violation of the Section 841(a)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”). The consolidated cases—Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States—present questions regarding the requisite state of mind for a jury to convict a prescriber under the CSA and the availability and nature of a “good faith” defense to criminal liability under the statute. By agreeing to hear these cases, the Court positions itself to resolve, or at minimum weigh in on, the current circuit splits regarding these issues.
Under the CSA, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Moore, 423 U.S. 122 (1975), practitioners who are registered to legally prescribe controlled substances can nonetheless be found to have violated the CSA if they prescribe in a manner that “fall[s] outside the usual course of professional practice.” However, petitioners argue that the state of mind necessary to convict varies by circuit. Judicial willingness to issue a specific jury instruction on the availability of a “good faith” defense similarly varies.