Source: US Newswire
Date: 16 January 2004

Florida's War on Drugs Now a War on Doctors Says Association of American Physicians and Surgeons


WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The more than 48 million people who suffer chronic pain in the United States are having difficulty finding doctors to treat them as a result of misguided drug policy, law enforcement, and overzealous prosecutions -- and pending prescription reporting bills will only make things worse in Florida.

"The 'war on drugs' has turned into a war on doctors and the legal drugs they prescribe and the suffering patients who need the drugs to attempt anything approaching a normal life," said Kathryn Serkes, public affairs counsel for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) at a news conference held Friday in Orlando.

The AAPS, along with the American Pain Institute, Pain Relief Network, and the National Pain Patients Coalition, joined to denounce the slate of state and Congressional legislative hearings, as stacked and one-sided to paint opioid drug patients as addicts and doctors who prescribe them as drug dealers.

The intimidating tactics have resulted in an atmosphere of fear --doctors are afraid to prescribe opioids, and patients can't get the drugs they so desperately need. "Physicians are being threatened, impoverished, delicensed, and imprisoned for prescribing in good faith with the intention of relieving pain," said Ms. Serkes. "And their patients have become the collateral damage in this trumped-up war."

Florida law actually requires doctors to treat pain patients, but legislators who want to look tough on "drug dealers" are making that almost impossible. "If they thought they could balance the Medicaid budget on the backs of pain patients, they are seriously mistaken," said Ms. Serkes.

Some patients require very large doses, sometimes literally hundreds of pills in each prescription -- a number that may seem alarming to people unfamiliar with current treatment standards in pain management. Other patients report that they have lied about being heroin addicts in order to get pain medication at methadone clinics.

The situation has become so critical that AAPS has issued a serious warning to doctors:

"If you're thinking about getting into pain management using opioids as appropriate -- DON'T. Forget what you learned in medical school -- drug agents now set medical standards. Or if you do, first discuss the risks with your family." (See

"If this continues, pain patients will be back in the Dark Ages of 'pain clinics' that basically told the patients they had to learn to 'live with the pain' -- except possibly if they had cancer and then they wouldn't have to live with it for very long," said Ms. Serkes.

"Prosecutors hell-bent on targeting career-making, high- publicity cases on the backs of patients and doctors," said Ms. Serkes. "Recent actions show prosecutors have little concern about the trail of destruction left by their actions as patients face crippling pain and gut-wrenching withdrawal." For example,

1. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi declared to a reporter that "our office will try our best to root out (certain doctors) like the Taliban. Stay tuned." In September, the President pointed to physician prosecutions as the example of how he wants to pursue terrorists.

2. Florida's "drug czar compared opioid prescribing to "mass murder" and vowed "We want to make an example out of those doctors who are violating the Hippocratic Oath and the law."

3. The prosecutor in the case of Dr. Cecil Knox of Roanoke Virginia told all of Dr. Knox's abandoned patients on the brink of withdrawal to go to federal clinics -- none of which are allowed to prescribe pain treatment, according to a court officer.

4. Doctors such as Jeri Hassman of Tucson, AZ, are effectively prevented from treating patients, sometimes for years, while their cases make their way through the courts.

5. In Florida, Dr. James Graves is serving more than 60 years for manslaughter after several of his patients overdosed on pain medications in combination with other drugs, including illegal street drugs.

"If this continues, there won't be one doctor left willing to prescribe the drugs that patients so desperately need," said Ms. Serkes.

Ron Myers of Mississippi, both a physician and minister, outlined devastating impact on his patients, and the inordinate impact on the African-American community, and representatives of the Pain Relief Network and National Pain Patients' Coalition told their stories.

(NOTE: The Association of American Physicians & Surgeons is a non-partisan professional association of physicians in all specialties, dedicated since 1943 to protection of the patient- physician relationship. AAPS is dues supported, and accepts no government funding, or pharmaceutical or other corporate underwriting.)

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