Contact: Kathryn Serkes 202.333.3855
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Drug War Ensnares Doctors, Not Dealers
Washington, D.C., Sept. 29, 2003 -- The Administration delivered on its threat to treat doctors "like the Taliban" last Thursday when federal prosecutors indicted and imprisoned William Hurwitz, M.D. of McLean, VA., for prescribing legal pain relief supervised and approved by the Virginia Board of Medicine.
Speaking at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Kathryn A. Serkes, public affairs counsel to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), explained why AAPS has decided to support Dr. Hurwitz, Dr. Cecil Knox of Roanoke, and other targeted doctors, and kicked off a national campaign to work with law enforcement. "Physicians are being threatened, impoverished, delicensed, and imprisoned for prescribing in good faith with the intention of relieving pain," said Ms. Serkes, who was joined by several pain patients and representatives of the American Pain Institute, National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain, Pain Relief Network and Juneteenth Medical Commission.
"Trial attorneys think doctors should pay dearly for abuse of medication by patients after they leave the doctors' offices. But why is Bush Administration government jailing doctors for the misdeeds of their patients?" asked Ms. Serkes, explaining that doctors are being brought up on murder charges when patients inject drugs mean to be taken orally, mix them with illegal street drugs such as heroin, then overdose.
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.
As promised, the Bush Administration seized Dr. Hurwitz's assets under drug forfeiture laws, reserved for kingpins such as the Columbia cartel - all without any finding of guilt. Then, in front of his two young children, about twenty armed agents seized the good doctor himself and imprisoned him without bail on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
"This is a national disgrace - doctors throughout the country are being targeted by egregious law enforcement for helping patients manage crippling pain with controlled, legal drugs," said Ms. Serkes.
"The 'war on drugs' has turned into a war on doctors - and lawful drugs and the patients who take them. Prosecutors make careers out of high-publicity cases involving the hot 'drug du jour' such as OxyContin," said Ms. Serkes. "But this war is causing enormous collateral damage and deaths from 'friendly fire.' Physicians have been drummed out of practice, sent to jail, and even been driven to suicide in the face of these 21st century witch hunts.
"Physicians make easy, high-profile targets, while real drug dealers hide in the shadows. These doctors are actually heroes who are treating patients at great personal risk. If this continues, not one doctor will be willing to prescribe the drugs that patients so desperately need," warned Ms. Serkes.
"The public wants prosecution of terrorists, not doctors who relieve pain. Instead, the Department of Justice is using its inflated powers to encroach on state jurisdiction and terrorize unarmed, honest professionals."
The real problem is not drugs, but drug misuse. All physicians are against drug abuse. Drugs are dangerous and must be treated with respect. Yet to many patients, drugs are life-saving. To stop the misuse of prescribed drugs-without depriving patients of life-saving medication-requires cooperation between law enforcement and physicians, not persecutions and prosecutions.
"In the past, the agents of the DEA and the doctors who treat those with chronic pain have worked at cross purposes," explained Ms. Serkes. "Instead of this antagonistic arrangement between the DEA and the doctors; the DEA and the doctors need to work TOGETHER. There needs to be open COMMUNICATION and 100% COOPERATION between these two groups."
Ms. Serkes unveiled the AAPS 3-point "Communicate and Cooperate" campaign, as well as specific recommendations for prosecutors to halt the destructive pattern of prosecutions. "Law enforcement agents are using deceitful tactics employed to snare doctors, and prosecutors' manipulate the legal system to frighten doctors and patients who might be willing to testify on behalf of the wrongfully accused doctors," said Ms. Serkes.
For example, she explained that law enforcement send undercover actors to doctors to feign pain and beg for drugs. Several patients spoke about the debilitating pain they suffer, and problems finding doctors to treat them, and AAPS distributed a list of more than 30 doctors arrested, tried or serving prison term, including one who committed suicide.
"Physicians and pharmacies report potential 'drug-seeking' patients to law enforcement, yet are never advised by law enforcement which patients it believes are 'drug seekers' trying to take advantage of physicians or pharmacies," said Ms. Serkes. "Currently, communication is only flowing in one direction."
Ms. Serkes also pointed out that law enforcement uses outmoded norms for assessing "excessive" prescribing. "Investigators frequently look at the volume and duration of drug use as the primary trigger for an indictment. This is no longer appropriate, as accepted treatment has changed, and leads to indictments of pain specialists simply due to the volume of their prescriptions."
She added, "In the art of medicine, investigators must be able to distinguish between a difference of opinion in what is proper treatment, and specific criminal intent. We're willing to help them review possible cases."
"If diversion is the problem they claim, and they are serious about stopping it, the DEA could pull the plug on most drug diversion by working with doctors, instead of against them. We hope this is a start," concluded Ms. Serkes.
"PROJECT: COMMUNICATE & COOPERATE"
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons have developed the 3-point "Communicate and Cooperate" campaign to encourage physicians and law enforcement to work together to prevent prescription drug abuse.
REPORTING. Physicians and pharmacies report potential "drug-seeking" patients to law enforcement, yet are never advised by law enforcement which patients it believes are "drug seekers" trying to take advantage of physicians or pharmacies. Currently, communication is only flowing in one direction. Law enforcement should set up a notification process to advise physicians of suspicious behavior by patients (using more than one pharmacy or more than one physician for prescriptions, contact with known dealers or addicts, etc.).
REVIEW BOARD. Physicians are willing to work with law enforcement officials and the Department of Justice to review potential cases before charges are filed. The DOJ should establish a procedure to assess a physician's practices by a review board of medical professionals, rather than relying upon their own laymen's judgments.
MUTUAL TRAINING. Attitudes toward, and the treatment of pain are rapidly changing. What was unacceptable a few years ago is now considered appropriate, both in medicine and in public opinion. For example, investigators frequently look at the volume and duration of drug use as the primary trigger for an indictment. This is no longer appropriate, as accepted treatment has changed, and leads to indictments of pain specialists simply due to the volume of their prescriptions. And finally, in the art of medicine, investigators must be able to distinguish between a difference of opinion in what is proper treatment, and specific criminal intent.
(More information on the "Communicate and Cooperate" 3-point plan and recommendations for legal reforms is posted on the AAPS website at www.aapsonline.org.)
Read "Pain Control in the Police State of Medicine" by Dr. William Hurwitz in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Vol. 8, Number 1, Spring 2003 : www.jpands.org
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.