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September 2004
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Take two aspirin and visit me in jail

A culture of cruelty has arisen in the medical establishment as patients who need medical pain management have come to be seen as agents of impending doom to those who would treat them. Physicians are prosecuted as drug dealers and patients who need opioids to survive are viewed with terrible suspicion, and subjected to every kind of humiliation and intrusion – that is, if they are lucky enough to find care at all.

This is the starting paragraph of a set of materials (532K Word Document) provided to those attending the Congressional Briefing on the Politics of Pain held this past Friday, which detailed some of the horrors that the war on drugs has visited on chronic pain.
The words above come from Siobhan Reynolds, President of Pain Relief Network, who was invited by American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, Rep. Ron Paul, and Rep. John Conyers to speak at the briefing. She concluded:

By thinking we could regulate medicines with federal criminal law and not, thereby, the practice of medicine, we have as a society made a colossal error. The Founding Fathers gave a great deal of thought to the structure of the government of the United States of America, giving only certain limited powers to the federal government, reserving all others to the sovereign states. This was done specifically to protect us from the imposition of oppressive central authority, exactly what we, the people, have suffered here in spades.

The regulation of medicine in the states is protective of medicine and therefore of patients, and needs to be respected by us all.

We are calling upon the Congress to allow the American people to tell our side of the story and to defund the United States Department of Justice in its pursuit of medical professionals who treat pain.

The Montel Show yesterday, and this briefing last Friday, together demonstrate in striking ways that the government’s war on drugs is often being used (particularly by the federal government) as an unconstitutional and immoral war on the people.
On the Montel show it was made clear that harrassment of sick people has absolutely nothing to do with whether there is sufficient evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits. The pain briefing brought out the stories of doctors following acceptable medical practices who have been stripped of everything in DEA witch hunts and patients increasingly having trouble finding doctors willing to treat them.
President George W. Bush recently talked about his concerns with the high cost of malpractice insurance by stating that “Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” And while I understand that there may be something important in those words (somewhere?), I would like to see a similar sense of outrage for the destruction of doctors who treat pain.
All of us face the possibility of a debilitating illness that requires proper pain management. Will your doctor, out of fear of the DEA, tell you to just deal with it and take some ibuprofen?
Radley Balko of The Agitator attended the briefing, interviewed a number of the people involved, and has reported on it in Doctors, Patients, Latest Drug War Casualties.

Fisher, a Harvard-trained physician, once specialized in the treatment of chronic pain.æHe served a predominantly rural and poor population in California.æAbout 5-10 percent of his 3,000 clients were pain patients, victims of illnesses like cancer, steep falls, or car accidents.

A little more than five years ago, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer initiated a high-profile campaign against pain doctors who prescribe high doses of opioidsæ– drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and codeine.æ

Lockyer made Frank Fisher his example. Lockyer and other California prosecutors likened Fisher to a crack dealer.æThen, to a mass murderer.æFisher was charged with multiple counts of drug distribution, fraud, and most sensationally,æ15 counts of murder.æThe state seized his assets.æ His bail was set at $15 million and he faced a possible life sentence.

He was acquitted of all charges, but…

Frank Fisher is still a broken man.æHe spent five months in prison and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.æHe has yet to get his assets back from the state of California, and he still faces the possible revocation of his medical license.æ

Read the whole thing.

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