PAINKILLER LAW: ARE ABUSE STATS THE NEXT “YELLOW CAKE” SPEECH?

The National Center on Drug Abuse, affiliated with the U.S. Government’s National Institutes of Health, compiled and put out a statistic awhile ago that 5.1 million Americans had taken prescription painkillers in the past month for “nonmedical reasons.” The statistic, released in 2010, is still being turned to today by the USG and others as calls to action against healthcare providers who prescribe Schedule II through V pain medication. The government’s argument then and now is fundamentally flawed, and unless it’s confronted, it threatens to become the government’s next “Yellow Cake” speech and recklessly target and penalize innocent and ethical healthcare professionals. The Yellow Cake speech, delivered to the United Nations by former Gen. Colin Powell during the George W. Bush administration, was the 16-word pronouncement that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction as a result of obtaining nuclear material, or “yellow cake,” from an African nation. The intel, of course, turned out to be wrong, and Gen. Powell has repeatedly said that delivering that speech is the biggest regret of his entire career.

First, the Center’s statistic itself is dubious. Who are these 5.1 million Americans? Patients? People with current, valid prescriptions? People whose dose has been monitored by their doctors? How do those surveyed draw the line between “medical use” and “nonmedical use,” and was there a static definition of “nonmedical” utilized as a standard measure from person to person? Or was “nonmedical use” a completely subjective notion, varying widely from person to person surveyed? The statistic is a compelling read, but its foundation, upon the most rudimentary examination, is shaky.

Second, the statistic says nothing about whether the source of the “nonmedical” painkillers is the user’s healthcare provider. Were these lawfully prescribed pills? Black market resells? Internet Oxy? There is no connection made between user and healthcare provider.

Third, and most importantly, the government mistakenly draws this connection in its current pronouncements about the need to “crack down” or “do something” about prescription drug abuse. The Office of National Drug Control Policy, the DEA, states’ Medical Boards and other powerful agencies are looking for someone to blame, and they’re focusing “like lasers,” to borrow from former president Clinton, on doctors, osteopaths, physician’s assistants, and pharmacists. No doubt there are some corrupt providers, pill mills do exist, drug diversion onto the black market is real, and a lot of people are addicted to prescription painkillers. But government at all levels nationwide is taking a hamfisted, impulsive, under-informed and careless approach to complaints, investigations, license revocation proceedings, lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. And with the pressure coming from legislators, patient advocates and vocal critics of prescription painkillers, the ethical healthcare provider should expect to come under investigative scrutiny even if in a different enforcement environment no official attention would be warranted.

Amid the swirling turbine of subpoenas, search warrants, legislation that second-guesses or replaces medical judgment, and other risks, healthcare providers must ensure that they are in full compliance with all criminal laws affecting and regulating prescription painkillers.

The Meister Law Offices has pioneered a critical new area of criminal defense – PAINKILLER LAW: CRIMINAL LAW COMPLIANCE FOR HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS. We are here to help. We help you verify, achieve and maintain compliance, so you can practice knowing you’re doing right by your patients and the law, and so if the law comes knocking anyway, you’re ready and able to stand up for yourself.

Call us today at 213.293.3737 for a free consultation, or write to us at info@painkillerlaw.com.

Leave a Reply