One way that people illegally obtain prescription drugs is by getting fake prescriptions — perhaps from doctors who are in on it or from other sources — which they can then present at the pharmacy. The pharmacist fills the prescription and gives the medication to the person in question, who then uses it, sells it or distributes it.

But should the responsibility for this type of scheme fall on the pharmacist? After all, the prescription appeared to be real on their end. They just filled it as they would for anyone else. How could they know?

The government offers some guidelines for this, but they do not entirely absolve pharmacists of guilt, as unfair as that may seem. Per the U.S. Department of Justice, the pharmacist is certainly responsible if they dispense an illegal prescription knowingly. This is the same standard used for many other types of fraud, such as tax fraud. “Knowingly” is an important qualifier that protects people from criminal ramifications after a simple mistake.

That said, the DOJ also notes that a pharmacist who fills prescriptions needs to “maintain constant vigilance against forged or altered prescriptions.” This implies that someone could face criminal charges simply for failing to be vigilant, even if not intentionally breaking the law.

For instance, perhaps the number of legal-looking prescriptions coming to the pharmacy was far too high, considering the local population, but the pharmacist continued to fill those prescriptions because they appeared legal. That could raise questions.

As you can imagine, though, these cases get very complex. What really constitutes knowledge of illegal activity? Should a pharmacist really be considered legally complicit just because they got scammed? Is that the way justice is supposed to work?

If you find yourself facing charges, you must know your legal defense options.