The War on Pain Management

by TChris

The casualties of the drug war fill our prisons, but illicit drugs remain widely available. John Tierney, commenting on DEA's war on doctors, makes a persuasive argument that the failed drug war has motivated DEA and other law enforcement agents to define deviancy up by going after physicians, the licensed drug dealers.

As quarry for D.E.A. agents, doctors offered several advantages over crack dealers. They were not armed. They were listed in the phone book. They kept office hours and records of their transactions. And unlike the typical crack dealer living with his mother, they had valuable assets that could be seized and shared by the federal, state and local agencies fighting the drug war.

Tierney also makes a convincing case that "the OxyContin crisis" -- DEA's supposed reason for chasing doctors who write more prescriptions than DEA agents believe to be prudent-- isn't a crisis at all.

The D.E.A. announced that in two years, there had been 464 OxyContin-related deaths, but most of the victims had taken other drugs, too, so the cause of death was uncertain. Ronald Libby, a political scientist at the University of North Florida, notes that even that figure is a minuscule fraction (0.00008 percent) of the number of OxyContin prescriptions written, and that it's dwarfed by the more than 32,000 people who die in the same period from gastrointestinal bleeding from other painkillers, like aspirin and ibuprofen.

TalkLeft recently called attention to another of Tierney's columns on this critical issue, lamenting the 25 year sentence imposed on a wheelchair-bound man who had (in the government's judgment) too many pills to control his overwhelming pain. DEA agents with no medical training seem to believe they know more about appropriate pain management than doctors and the patients who must endure the pain. They go after the suffering patients, then they go after the doctors who try to help them. And what problem does this solve? Scaring doctors away from using their best professional judgment harms pain management and forces patients to seek illicit sources of pain relief. Tierney again:

Consider the progress the White House's drug-policy agency found last year in a field survey on drug use in Cincinnati: "Because diverted OxyContin is more expensive and difficult to purchase," the agency reported, "users have switched to heroin."

The attorney generals of 30 states have complained that the DEA's confusing and overreaching interference with medical judgment has denied patients necessary pain relief. But we know how much the Bush administration cares about states' rights when it comes to the drug war.

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    Re: The War on Pain Management (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    I'm glad that you're covering this because it impacts my well-being in a *very* direct way. It's difficult enough to get by because my doctor is already audited by the DEA (they have a special number they need to use on every prescription) in order to make any prescription. If the DEA already has a way of tracking prescriptions, why add this extra load of work on my doctor? This is yet more intimidation from an organization that has already destroyed the lives of far too many people. Thank you again, and good luck. I hope that somehow, someway we can restore sanity to the world. Love, Hanna

    Re: The War on Pain Management (none / 0) (#2)
    by Joe Bob on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    I have to wonder if those pushing these prosecutions for pain medication have any first-hand experience with it. Surely someone, somewhere, in the DEA has had a close friend or relative die of cancer or some other excruciating, prolonged terminal illness. In my own experience, I have known people on so much pain medication that it would make an otherwise healthy person high as a kite. Yet all it did was make life bearable for these people. Is the abuse of prescription medicine really such a problem that the DEA is willing to consign thousands, if not millions, of people to live out their illnesses in agony?

    Re: The War on Pain Management (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    The DEA loves easy targets. It's no small reason why the war on drugs has been largely a war on marijuana. Pot smokers aren't violent, so they don't have to worry about getting shot during a raid. Guess the same principle applies here. What a disgrace.

    Re: The War on Pain Management (none / 0) (#4)
    by jackl2400 on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    If you want to verify that DEA agents are by and large jerks who need to be given something more productive to do, check out their "whistleblowers" site here.

    Re: The War on Pain Management (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    Wow. A lucid column from that twit, Tierney. Somebody pinch me.

    Re: The War on Pain Management (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    I am surprised some of the drug companies lobbyist don't put pressure on someone in Washington to end this.