Doctor shopping is a problem across the nation and here in Hampton Roads.
The term refers to people going from doctor to doctor trying to get their hands on as many prescription drugs as possible. When a person is doctor shopping, they are not informing the physician of any previous narcotics they have received from other medical treatment centers.
After four years of serving in Virginia Beach as a police officer, Harry Kephart was arrested and accused of doctor shopping, according to the stipulation of facts in his case. The 30-year-old recently pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining prescription medication.
The former officer declined our interview, but his lawyer Shawn Cline did speak to us.
“He developed a habit and unfortunately, it became more than he could control," said Cline.
According to the stipulation of facts in the case, the Virginia Beach Police Department was tipped off by an emergency room physician at Bayside Hospital.
It states that the doctor told police Kephart attempted to get prescription drugs for pain three days in a row after complaining about on-the-job injuries. It stated that he went into several different medical facilities even after he had been turned down by a doctor.
In October, he pleaded guilty. His lawyer said his felony charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor if he complies with probation and completes rehab.
"Unfortunately, because of an injury that he sustained while serving as a police officer, he became addicted to these pills," said Cline.
It’s the downward spiral for many who become addicted to prescription medication.
Experts say many of them suffer from a legitimate injury, but then they end up getting hooked on prescription drugs.
Virginia Beach School Board Member Carolyn Weems’s daughter first got hooked on pills after an injury. Weems said her prescription pill addiction led to a heroin addiction.
"We were kind of naïve and thought that if a doctor was prescribing it, it would be somewhat safe,” said Weems.
Her daughter was found dead in April 2013 at the age of 21.
"Every day you think about it. All day long. Everything triggers it. You rehash what you should have done, what you didn’t do, what you could have done,” said Weems.
“We see this all the time in Virginia Beach and in the surrounding communities, individuals of all backgrounds,” said Cline.
Senior Special Agent with the State Police Charles Misuna has been involved with drug enforcement for over three decades.
“A week does not go by that I’m not receiving a complaint by a practitioner regarding someone who they think is doctor shopping,” said Misuna.
He said doctor shopping is a big problem, affecting all different types of people from all kinds of backgrounds. He said it’s a hard crime to prove often involving different pharmacies and doctors in multiple jurisdictions.
Plus he calls the law vague.
“What makes it illegal is the fact that the person, when they saw the practitioner, failed to notify or give the practitioner information that they were getting the narcotics from another practitioner and that is where you come into the deceit and fraud, but it is not spelled out in that matter," says Cline.
“There are issues with these sorts of cases of what is legal and what isn’t and it can be confusing even for an attorney,” said Cline.
The problem is so overwhelming with prescription drug abuse that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe took action last fall and created a task force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse.
A new law will soon require all doctors who prescribe strong narcotics to be registered through the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program – a database of information which explains who gets what drugs and when, according to the Virginia Department of Health Professions.
They said certain law enforcement departments have access to the information for active investigations.
The program was voluntary, but is now required for doctors who prescribe strong narcotics that will be used by a patient for more than 90 days.
“The importance of a provider going into a database and looking for patients that are getting medications from other providers is an important step forward. We didn’t have a way to track that before," says Sentara Medical Group's Dr. Daniel Dickinson.
The medical community is doing more to prevent pills from getting into the hands of addicts. They hope to prevent more people like former Officer Kephart from getting in trouble with the law.
"He is now clean and sober. I just hope that he and his family are able to move past this and that he will secure gainful employment in the near future,” said Cline.
He probably won’t work as a cop, but his loss is minimal compared to parents like Carolyn Weems who have to live with pain of losing their child and now spending their time and efforts trying to save other people.