For years, government drug investigators and prosecutors have sought to act as “supervising physicians” over the medical profession–indicting and imprisoning doctors (and often, their patients) whom the government deems to be dispensing or using too much pain medication.
Pain is a symptom, not an illness, and no two doctors or health experts agree on pain management styles or medication dosages. And the complexity of government regulations make the management of chronic pain very dangerous. In the words of the great Rodney Balko (see here):
As more doctors drop out or are forced out of pain treatment, pain patients grow more desperate. Doctors aren’t permitted to post-date painkiller prescriptions, and patients can’t get refills until their prescription runs out. So they may horde pills when they can, or seek out multiple doctors, often without telling one doctor that they’re seeing others.
In some cases, prosecutors imprison doctors who happen to have patients who are caught reselling pain meds. See the case of Virginia doctor William Hurwitz, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after a judge falsely instructed jurors they could not consider whether Hurwitz acted in “good faith” when he prescribed large doses of medicine.
In one notorious Florida case, a paraplegic and multiple sclerosis patient named Richard Paey was sentenced to 25 years in prison for “drug distribution” (based solely on the quantity of pills in Paey’s possession, without any evidence that Paey ever “distributed” a single pill). As Balko writes,
Prosecutors claimed that no legitimate pain patient could possibly need the amount of medication Paey was taking. But once Paey was in prison, the state of Florida treated him with the same class of painkillers it put him in prison for possessing, and at the same or higher doses. “It became a comedy of bureaucracies,” Paey told me in a 2007 interview. “One agency prosecutes me for taking too much medication… Then I get to prison, and the doctors examine my records and my medical history, and they decide that as doctors, they have to give me this medication…
(When Paey told his story to the New York Times, he was moved to a higher-security prison, further away from his family, and was put into solitary confinement.)
Now we read that a Florence, Montana doctor has been criminally charged with 400 counts of illegal drug distribution for allegedly overprescribing pain medication to Montana patients. And another Montana doctor, Mark Ibsen, has opted to quit treating chronic pain patients altogether. See here.
Ibsen states that he live in constant fear of DEA investigation and criminal prosecution.