It can be an intimidating experience to be sure… A DEA agent or Diversion Investigator, on an unscheduled visit to your office, confronts you with a KASPER, a KBML complaint or some other state regulatory action and alleges violations of the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA Agent then asks you to sign DEA Form 104. This form, which is titled “Voluntary Surrender of Controlled Substances Privileges,” is placed in front of you while the agent explains why you should sign it immediately, rather than face potential action to revoke your DEA and other adverse consequences. The DEA Agent tells you that you are already in deep, deep trouble (of a vague and unspecified nature), and that the simple act of signing this form can make your troubles go away and prevent federal action. Also, he tells you that all you have to do to get the number back is to reapply! Hold on…this is not the full story! This scenario is becoming a harsh reality and common situation for physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and PAs.
The truth is that signing any voluntary surrender will create multiple problems for providers including the loss of Medicare and Medicaid participation among other things that have the potential to destroy medical practices and livelihoods. Providers should know, for instance, that the DEA’s final rules, codified at 21 C.F.R. §§ 1301.52(a) and 1301.62(a), state that signing this form and handing it to a DEA employee will result in immediate loss of prescribing privileges for controlled substances in schedules II through V. When a voluntary surrender is executed, the DEA does not have to investigate further or bring any sort of charges – the signed form is akin to agreeing to a criminal sentence by bypassing an arrest, arraignment and trial, with the consequences being immediate forfeiture of a provider’s ability to prescribe any controlled substances. Make no mistake – the form may say “voluntary,” but it is in the best interest of the DEA to make the form as much the opposite as possible.
When a provider signs the form, there are three important things that happen – the provider’s surrender becomes officially “voluntary,” no matter how much that provider was pressured into signing; the provider’s signature officially resolves any governmental concerns that led to the provider being asked to sign, essentially proving the government’s case for them; and the signature creates a waiver of any right to an administrative hearing that could prevent the loss of the provider’s DEA registration. In other words, signing the form essentially is an irrevocable action.
There are other consequences beyond the immediate loss of the registration number. Once a DEA registration number is lost, it becomes excruciatingly difficult to regain. The proceedings will likely take between 18 months and two years, with the DEA opposing the provider at every step. All the while, the provider has no DEA registration and can’t prescribe controlled substances, rendering practice potentially impossible.
Also, when the form is signed, the DEA reports it to Medicare and Medicaid, which mot likely results in termination of participation. Understandably, Medicare and Medicaid do not want to pay for a provider’s services when he or she can not provide the full spectrum of care that includes prescribing controlled substances. Additionally, signing the form may trigger administrative and disciplinary action like civil monetary penalties or loss of medical staff privileges. Essentially, one signature has the potential to destroy a provider’s entire livelihood.
The DEA agent, of course, will do his or her level best to convince you that this is your best possible legal action. The DEA Agent’s intent is far from giving the provider the full story. The only advice that a provider should be accepting is legal advice from her or his attorney. When a provider confronts a DEA Agent, particularly in an unscheduled visit, the first thing a provider should do is contact an attorney before making any decisions as to how to proceed, whether the DEA is requesting consent to a search or a surrender of controlled substance prescribing privilege. Above all, do not sign anything without the advice your attorney. Tell the DEA Agent that you will have to consult with your attorney before signing any voluntary surrender or making any statements. The DEA Voluntary Surrender Form 104 is not a simple matter, whatsoever!