Pain Doctors Under Fire

Doctors who choose to treat patients in chronic pain by prescribing painkillers are being increasingly subjected to criminal prosecution. Doctors charge they are the target of overzealous prosecutors and DEA agents. The Pain Relief Network is fighting back.

....charges of illegally prescribing prescription narcotics, criminal conspiracy, racketeering and even murder have been brought in dozens of states against scores of doctors who treat chronic pain with prescription narcotics. At least two have been imprisoned, one committed suicide, several are awaiting sentencing, many are preparing for trial, and more have lost their licenses to practice medicine and accumulated huge legal bills.

Their crime, it seems, is that they were supplying their chronic pain patients with sometimes large numbers of prescriptions for controlled but legal medications to treat their pain. The result, the doctors say, is that the established medical use of opium-based drugs for pain is becoming criminalized by aggressive drug agents and zealous prosecutors. Adding to their concern, the official rhetoric has escalated to the point that federal and state prosecutors often accuse arrested doctors of being no different than drug kingpins or crack dealers.

....Some pain doctors are organizing to push back, and in recent months a loose national movement has been formed to contest what some call the "war" being waged against pain doctors, pharmacists and suffering patients. A new group called the Pain Relief Network is organizing a march on Washington in April to protest the prosecutions and has hired an attorney to develop a legal strategy for appealing some of the convictions.

....That protest is being organized by Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the Pain Relief Network and a caregiver for a chronic pain sufferer. "The Government says that it wants to balance the needs of patients in pain with the need to keep addicts from abusing medication, but that's not what's being accomplished," Reynolds said. "The only people being kept from using drugs in our society are those legally entitled to use them, our sick people."

From the Pain Relief Network's website:

"The Founding Fathers wisely limited federal power, recognizing that a concentration of power at the federal level will lead to abuses. Our nations' failure to abide by this strict separation of Federal and State power in the critically sensitive area of the regulation of medicine has led to a public health catastrophe in pain care.

PRN has brought many targeted physicians together into our support network of physicians and attorneys and is sharing information with their lawyers, coordinators and interested family members. PRN is enabling targeted physicians to leverage their attorney's meager resources, providing a much more formidable resistance to Justice Department and State prosecution teams which seem to enjoy unlimited access to funds.

In essence, PRN is taking a clinical approach to the legal defense of pain care. No one has ever taken this kind of empirical approach to the problem. PRN is also building an informal but formidable network of mainstream medical institutions, pharmaceutical companies, pain organizations, civil rights groups, grass-roots patient groups, religious organizations, concerned law enforcement entities, drug policy organizations, and legal associations, eager to assist the beset doctors.

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