We Hurt Those We Claim to Help

Arguing that a chronic pain patient is not a criminal for taking his meds

Arguing that a chronic pain patient is not a criminal for taking his meds

I have argued for the right of patients with relentless and chronic pain to get relief – and that means pain killers including opioids.

I have represented pain doctors who are healing not dealing when they prescribe pain killers to chronic pain patients.

But we have a national campaign and citizens up in arms who are endangering those in pain –because there is no nuance in their anti-pain medication campaign.

There’s pain in America — and our government is making it worse certain that pain medication can only cause addiction, when dependence on medication is not the same thing as addiction, and relief from pain is all that stands between many people and suicide.

We have politicians across the nation, who know less about the medical science than my Jack Russells, arguing that we must withhold opioids from chronic pain patients, despite the fact that this medication allows these men and women to function.

I was a federal prosecutor in New York in the “war against drugs” in the 1970s, along with then AUSA Rudy Giuliani, and we fought the good fight against drugs.  We were chasing organized crime drug kingpins who were importing hundreds of kilos of pure heroin.  We thought we were doing more than just imprisoning bad guys.  We now know that taking these drug kingpins off the street did little to push back drug use in this nation.

Now we are chasing pain patients and their doctors.

Millions of Americans suffer the kind of chronic, unremitting pain that courses through the body like a raging storm causing misery that can’t be known unless you’ve suffered it.  This pain steals the joy of waking life and bars restful sleep.  It never lets up.  As one patient said, you think about ending it all – when you can’t deaden the pain.  The patient may well remember what it was like before pain convinced him that he’d never find peace again. Dante wrote in his “Inferno” how “[T]here is no greater pain than to remember happiness in the midst of one’s misery.”

We have those who would deny to pain patients the opiates Congress approved for moderate and severe pain. The government “teaches” the public to forgo pain relief for fear of possible addiction.  We don’t seem to appreciate there’s a big difference between dependence on a pain treatment so one can function and being addicted.

Joy Ilem, the Deputy National Legislative Director for Disabled American Veterans, reportedly said, “We’re hearing from veterans with lifelong disabilities who never had a problem with addiction issues.  They have been on these drugs for decades, and then all of a sudden it was boom, a total change in attitudes.”

Richard Paey, a client of mine, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the Percocets prescribed for his pain.  He took these percocets for his pain, every one, never gave a single capsule to anyone else, sold not one to anyone else.  He was followed and these facts were confirmed.  He was prosecuted for having pills in sufficient numbers that it was “presumed” by the quantity he was distributing the Percocets.  Only one Florida Appellate Court judge agreed it was constitutionally impermissible to prosecute Richard for his status as a patient.

It took then Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and a unanimous vote by the Florida Cabinet to grant Richard a full pardon.  Richard’s wife, Linda, cried.  All those waiting for their petitions to be heard jumped to their feet and cheered.  Linda said, “I feel like I’m in a Rocky movie.”  It would have been a more satisfying victory, however, if it had not taken 10 years to get the right and just result.

Richard and Linda Paey

Richard and Linda Paey


One federal prosecutor told me that she thought that the government should talk to my DC dentist for prescribing Oxycontin for the acute pain I suffered following a titanium implant.  My Executive Assistant has a sign on her office wall – “You can’t fix stupid.”  Unfortunately this dull federal prosecutor has a lot of company.

We have to start paying attention to and curbing this misplaced enthusiasm that is compromising the essential medical treatment for chronic pain patients who are suffering.