June 26, 2003
At the same time, we cannot ignore that there are millions of people who suffer with severe and chronic pain every day, and who need these very same prescription medications in order to live a normal life and to perform even the most basic functions. As Newsweek reported on May 19, "Pain is the Number 1 reason Americans visit their doctors… and the annual cost, including treatment and lost workdays, now hovers at $100 billion dollars in the United States."
Unfortunately, the DEA and the doctors who treat chronic pain are not working collaboratively to meet these important national healthcare interests. Instead an antagonistic relationship has developed between the DEA and doctors, where the DEA appears to think that doctors are over-prescribing pain medication and doctors are trying in good faith to care for their patients under the ever- growing fear of being accused of aiding in unlawful drug diversion.
The DEA and doctors need to work TOGETHER. There needs to be open COMMUNICATION and 100% COOPERATION between these two groups.
Together, we CAN solve the problem of the unlawful diversion of drugs.
If the DEA shared information about drug abusers with doctors, doctors and legitimate chronic pain patients would immediately benefit. Instead of expending medical resources on those who are deceiving the healthcare system, doctors could then spend all their time with genuine chronic pain patients the way a doctor's time should be spent:
Instead of working collaboratively with doctors, the DEA treats doctors, not the drug abuser, as the cause of the drug diversion problem. As a result, the DEA's targeting of doctors is having a chilling effect on the treatment of chronic pain patients and threatens to undermine the standard of care for chronic pain patients. Doctors can't effectively treat chronic pain patients if they live in fear that they will be accused of over-prescribing pain medication by the federal government. It is not hard to see that it is the chronic pain patients who will suffer. They will not be able to obtain the treatment they so need and deserve.
Moreover, with the substantial threat of government prosecution of doctors, doctors will have no choice but to distrust their patients and require them to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they have legitimate pain before they will render the necessary and beneficial pain treatment. Again, it is the legitimate chronic pain patient who is made to suffer.
If, instead, doctors and the DEA worked together, doctors and the DEA could do their jobs and the integrity of our entire healthcare system would be enhanced.
Wouldn't it be best if doctors could spend their time doing what doctors do best -- treating patients, helping patients and decreasing pain and suffering?
And wouldn't it be best if the DEA focused on what they can do best -- finding those that use important drugs for the wrong reasons, dealing with those who intentionally misuse the drugs and break the law, and then communicating with and helping doctors identify those wrongdoers?
The prosecution of doctors who are trying to do their best for their patients must end. Doctors don't want drugs to go into the wrong hands. By their tactics the DEA has put doctors in the unusual predicament of having to treat any patient who complains of pain as if he or she is NOT telling the truth. This is backwards. Instead, the DEA should be sharing information with doctors so we don't unwittingly help a wrongdoer.
Doctors are trained to BELIEVE their patients.
There needs to be OPEN COMMUNICATION, wholehearted COOPERATION and mutual respect between the agents of the DEA and the doctors who have stepped forward to treat patients with chronic pain.
Jeri B. Hassman, M.D.
Board Certified Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Certified Independent Medical Examiner