Source: US Newswire
Date: 2 October 2003

Doctors Say US Drug Policy Forces Pain Patients to Extreme Measures, Turns Doctors Into Criminals

Contact: Kathryn Serkes, 202-333-3855,
for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 /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.

"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).

On Monday, Sept. 29, AAPS held a news conference to announce support for William Hurwitz, MD, of McLean, Virginia, who has been indicted, imprisoned, and had all assets seized for prescribing legal pain relief approved by the Virginia Board of Medicine.

The result of prosecutions such as those against Dr. Hurwitz and more than 30 others tracked by AAPS is that 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."

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."

"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." And earlier this month, the President pointed to physician prosecutions as the example of how he wants to pursue terrorists.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. : the birth of a new generation

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