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Latest Target for DEA’s War on Drugs: Your Doctor

Opinion Editorial
April 14, 2004

By Mike Krause

Colorado is one of about 30 states not operating a prescription drug monitoring program on behalf of the federal government. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have a plan to change that.  Colorado should tell the feds to carry their own water.

Warning about a “growing new menace,” the same federal drug war bureaucracy, which has failed spectacularly in the war on illegal drugs, has turned its barrels onto prescription pain relief drugs, the doctors who prescribe them, and patients who use them.

In March, ONDCP announced a new plan, as part of the larger 2004 National Drug Control Strategy to “combat prescription drug abuse.”  http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/news/press04/030104.html

>As part of the new strategy, “ONDCP and DEA will work with state officials to expand the number of Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMPs) and to facilitate information sharing among jurisdictions.” http://whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/news/press04/prescrip_fs.pdf

In other words, they want Colorado — and the rest of the states — to make it easier for federal drug agents to track, monitor and otherwise snoop into the private and highly personal relationship between doctor, patient and pharmacist.  In other words, a further expansion of the Surveillance State.

But is this really a crisis requiring greater government reach into peoples private lives?  Or is this just federal overreach: a way for the DEA, having failed in its main mission to stem the tide of illegal drug use, to justify its budget and prop up its prosecution count by going after easier targets? This year alone, two federal reviews, including one by the Government Accounting Office, laid bare the DEAs poor performance in fighting illegal drug use.

Among the governments justification for what Drug Czar John Walters calls “a widespread and serious problem in this country, one that calls for immediate action”, is the claim that 6.2 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2002.  The governments numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.  For instance, government officials claim that nearly 500 people died from overdosing on the prescription drug OxyContin in 2002; but an article in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found only 12 cases in which OxyContin specifically was the cause of death.  All the others died from poly-drug abusemixing OxyContin with other substances such as alcohol or cocaine.  A significant distinction. https://www.jatox.com/abstracts/2003/mar/57-cone.html

The April 12th edition of the American Medical News — the news arm of the American Medical Association — editorialized: “While the government estimates that 6.2 million Americans abuse prescription drugs (often opioid painkillers), an untold number of the many millions of Americans who experience chronic pain are undertreated for that pain. Some of the methods used to control drug abuse make physicians fearful of prescribing opioid painkillers for patients who truly need these medications.” http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2004/04/12/edsa0412.htm

In other words, by striking fear of prosecution into the hearts of physicians, the government, in an attempt to punish those who foolishly abuse prescription drugs, will punish untold millions of chronic pain patients.

While the crackdown on doctors has been going on for some time — reaching back to the Clinton administration — under the Ashcroft Justice Department, it has taken on a hard-ball edge.  In 2003, physician Deborah Bordeaux was convicted under the  federal drug-kingpin statute, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, for dispensing opiates to patients suffering from chronic pain at a South Carolina clinic, where she had worked for two months.

The harshest drug war statutes, originally intended for cocaine cartels and violent criminal drug gangs, are now being applied to doctors.  As Doctor David Weisman, Professor of Hematology/Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin writes, “Fear of the DEA, as the most visible representative of a much more complex drug regulatory system, is a well-recognized barrier to prescribing opioid analgesics.”  The American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is now recommending to doctors that they simply avoid prescribing medicines out of favor with the DEA.

So what does all this mean for the doctor/patient relationship? As Doctors Michael Glueck and Robert Cihak, writing for NewsMax.com put it, “The problem goes much deeper than out-of-control drug cops. The government is relentlessly forcing the American physician to become the servant of the state, as hyper-regulated caregiver and as on-call policeman, under constant threat of criminal prosecution.”

And those Coloradoans who either now, or someday suffer from chronic pain, may find their course of treatment being decided by federal drug agents rather than by their physician.

Colorado has little or no say as to who the federal government targets, nor what kind of tactics they use.  But Colorado can show its respect for the sanctity of the doctor/ patient relationship and opt out of the prescription monitoring scheme.  And simply tell the DEA that if they want to snoop into the relationship between Coloradoans and their physicians, to do it themselves.