Feds' Drug War Hurts Chronic Pain Patients

The Washington Examiner, in an editorial, points out another unfortunate consequence of the war on drugs: doctors are getting skittish about prescribing pain medication for patients in chronic pain, for fear of being prosecuted.

As Pain Relief Network President Siobhan Reynolds said, "Ninety-eight percent of doctors won't touch [chronic pain patients] with a 10-foot pole."

Dr. William Hurwitz was sentenced to 25 years in prison last month, following a trial at which the Government labeled him "no better than a crack dealer," although there was no evidence that he profited from his prescriptions.

Now every pain specialist in the country is acutely aware that merely writing a prescription for a legal drug could land them in jail if the medication winds up in the wrong hands.

So what does the post-Hurwitz landscape look like?

Dr. Hurwitz's conviction did not clarify when he crossed the line into criminality. The resulting uncertainty, Dr. Campbell says, is making physicians nationwide afraid to adjust doses upward until their pain is relieved. They simply don't know where the line is between a legal dose and a prescription that will land them in jail.

That is going to leave millions of Americans without adequate pain relief. The editorial concludes:

The system is indeed broken when the federal government is more concerned about the welfare of drug addicts than the 25 million Americans identified in a 2002 National Institutes of Health study who live with unrelenting pain - while the means to alleviate it remains just beyond their reach.

I'm not sure I get the reference to "more concerned about the welfare of drug addicts." I don't think the Government has shown any concern for drug addicts. That comment seems to come from out of left field.

I agree the feds should be castigated for their campaign against pain doctors, but why not advocate compassion for all drug addicts, instead of limiting it to those chronically in pain? What the editorial does is segregate drug users by categories that seem to break down into "justified drug use" and "unjustified drug use." That is a line that can be as difficult to draw as the line between acceptable prescribing and over-prescribing.

USA Today is also covering the problem of targeting doctors for prescriptions. Radley Balko comments here.
[link via Memeorandum.}

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  • Re: Feds' Drug War Hurts Chronic Pain Patients (none / 0) (#1)
    by Richard Aubrey on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:58 PM EST
    The current issue of National Review agrees 100%. You sure you don't want to change your mind?

    Re: Feds' Drug War Hurts Chronic Pain Patients (none / 0) (#2)
    by Pete Guither on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:58 PM EST
    The reference to "more concerned about the welfare of drug addicts" is, I believe a reminder that the supposed reason for these drugs to be illegal is out of "concern" that they'll be abused. So yes, in this case, the author is saying that the policy of the DEA is pushing an agenda to prosecute any possible diversion of pain medication to addicts at the expense of those legitimately in pain (hence, caring more about addicts that pain sufferers). It's hard for us (who see all the hypocrisy) to imagine, but the entire drug war (with all the costs, and prison, and killing) is supposedly fought to prevent some people from harming themselves by using drugs. And, of course, it doesn't even work.

    Re: Feds' Drug War Hurts Chronic Pain Patients (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:59 PM EST
    Well said Pete. Pain-Schmain...We've got people to lock up....FOR THE CHILDREN!

    Re: Feds' Drug War Hurts Chronic Pain Patients (none / 0) (#4)
    by pigwiggle on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:59:02 PM EST
    This seems particularly relevant to the thread.