Spotlight on a DEA Investigation: Can A Doctor Be A Drug Lord?

Gavel and stethoscope depicting DEA investigation

For once, there’s a story in the news of a positive ending for someone accused of criminal conduct.

Dr. Joseph Oesterling is a Saginaw-area urologist and was previously Chief of Urology at the University of Michigan Hospital. He trained at Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic.

Oesterling was charged and went to trial for 7 counts of criminal conduct. This included 5 counts of delivery of a Schedule II controlled substance, 1 count of maintaining a drug house, and 1 count of continuing a criminal enterprise.

His charges literally accused him of being a drug lord.

On October 5, 2017, Tuscola County jurors found him not guilty of all seven counts. The last count – continuing a criminal enterprise – is a 20-year felony.

The DEA Investigation

The trouble started when Oesterling was arraigned on charges in December. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) had spent 7 months investigating him – the Tactical Diversion Squad of Detroit and Thumb Narcotics Unit. These agency units were looking into alleged overprescribing practices in clinics all over Michigan. Agents visited his clinics and faked pain in order to receive prescriptions.

Dr. Oesterling beat the charges and looks forward to continuing his practice as a urologist.

However, other doctors across the country? They were not so lucky.

The DEA is cracking down on pain medication production, prescriptions, and doctors themselves.  According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, thousands of medical professionals have had to give away their licenses to prescribe narcotics because of this. With that, they have basically signed away their medical practices.

A number of doctors can’t stay in business if they can’t retain their DEA rights to prescribe narcotics. According to the above-cited article, “From 2011 to 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration accepted the surrender of 3,679 prescribing licenses nationwide, and revoked another 99.”

What is frustrating for many medical professionals is when DEA agents who have no medical degrees or knowledge come in and revoke licenses instead of providing specific limits for narcotics prescriptions.

The Drug Overdose Problem

On the other hand, according to, in one year, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War did. That was 2015.

We don’t know yet if 2016 or 2017 will be better or worse than that. This has got a lot of people, and policy-makers, worried about how to change that number.

The drug overdose issue is huge, and it’s not going away. The DEA wants to keep overflow prescription narcotics from ending up on the street, or from killing people. Doctors want to keep their jobs and their ability to treat their patients. Families want to keep their loved ones.

In addition, some people want to legalize marijuana to offer a safe alternative to pain management and recreational drug use.

How will it all shake out?

Dr. Oesterling may have gone to trial because he saw what was happening, thought it was unfair and was determined to keep what he saw as his rights. However, he is better off than other doctors who decided not to fight.

Over to You

What do you think? Should DEA agents be better informed before they revoke the rights of doctors to prescribe narcotics?