A More Sensible Surge: Ending DOJ’s Indiscriminate Raids of Healthcare Providers – by Michael C. Barnes DCBA Law & Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a “Legislation & Policy Brief” I found that echoes what we’ve been trying to explain. This brief specifically mentions well-known doctors that have been prosecuted (and persecuted) by federal law enforcement for simply doing their jobs: treating their patients’ pain with opioids when nothing else gave relief.
Mr. Barnes understands and agrees with our position, urging that federal raids of doctors’ offices be halted.
He also points out that the overdose crisis is not about opioids specifically, that the deaths are from increasing numbers of people ingesting various combinations of illicit drugs.
Overdose deaths in the United States continue to pose a significant threat, although provisional statistics suggest that overdose deaths may be declining.
Most opioid-related deaths involve illicit substances, such as heroin and fentanyl. Conversely, opioid prescribing and overdose deaths related to prescription opioids have both declined significantly in recent years.
Nevertheless, the federal government has committed to further restricting the availability of prescription opioid medication.
To that end, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has implemented an aggressive effort to shut down rogue prescribers and pharmacists.
As part of this effort, however, the DOJ has raided, searched, and investigated
- a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM),
- the editor-in-chief of the Practical Pain Management medical journal,
- the immediate past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), and
- a past president of ASAM’s affiliate, the Tennessee Society of Addiction Medicine.
None of these influential physicians has been charged with a crime.
Indiscriminate raids, searches, and investigations of heath care professionals put patients’ lives at risk, destroy professionals’ livelihoods and careers, and create confusion, fear, and reluctance to prescribe among other health care professionals.
This chilling effect undermines congressional efforts to expand the number of professionals who prescribe medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD).
To ensure that professionals feel confident prescribing or dispensing medication to treat opioid use disorder and other conditions that may require treatment with controlled medications, complaints against licensed health care professionals, including pharmacists, should be investigated first by professional licensing boards, which are governed and staffed by professionals with health-specific expertise, rather than by law enforcement.
Allowing law enforcement officers to dictate medical policy is an egregious trespass into the practice of medicine. Law enforcement agents have expertise only in their own field and know nothing about patients or medicine.
Congress and state legislators should, therefore, amend federal and state laws to require law enforcement to obtain a referral from the appropriate state health-profession licensing board before instituting, aiding in, or defending an investigation or criminal or civil action against a prescriber or dispenser of FDA-approved medications in which medical need or patient care, including the prescribing or dispensing of medications, is at issue.
This is exactly what the state licensing boards are for: to regulate medical practice in the state. The federal government is NOT authorized (or competent) to do this job.
From the outline below, you can see that Mr. Barnes covers many of our arguments:
A. The U.S. overdose crisis primarily involves substances other than opioid pain relievers
- Dose and duration limits
- Aggressive DOJ enforcement
B. Federal raids are not limited to prescribers and dispensers of opioid analgesics
C. The Department of Justice has raided some of america’s most reputable physicians
- Dr. Lynn Webster, past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine
- Dr. Forest Tennant, editor-in-chief of Practical Pain Management
- Dr. Stuart Gitlow, past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine
- Dr. Ralph T. Reach, past president of the Tennessee Society of Addiction Medicine
A. Indiscriminate raids are destructive
- Inability of stable patients to obtain necessary medications
- Relegation to risky street drugs
B. Roughshod raids are counterproductive
- Congressional intent
- Practitioner concerns
C. Two key elements of controlled substance prescribing cases are medical in nature
III. Policy recommendations
Licensing boards are well equipped to evaluate medical need and patient care
- Congress should require a state medical licensing board determination before federal agents may investigate a prescriber
- State legislatures should require a licensing board referral before law enforcement may investigate a prescriber
Congress should authorize and appropriate federal funding for state health-profession licensing boards
I’m encouraged to see these sensible and relatively simple policy proposals. They are logical, realistic, and certainly within the realm of current possibilities.
Prescription-opioid-related overdose deaths are on the decline while illicit-opioid-related deaths ravage families and communities. Nonetheless, the federal government continues to focus largely on reducing access to prescription opioid medications.
As part of this effort, the DOJ has instituted several initiatives targeting health care providers, including a 45-day “surge” in which the DOJ took action against 365 individuals whose conduct it deemed unlawful.
Not all health care professionals subject to the DOJ’s searches and seizures are “dirty docs.” In fact, some of them are nationally recognized leaders not just in pain management, but also in addiction medicine.
The DOJ’s indiscriminate raids of health care providers can
- put patients’ lives at risk by leaving them without access to medically necessary treatments,
- destroy the livelihoods of physicians and other professionals who have not been convicted of or even charged with a crime, and
- discourage other health care providers from practicing in the same field of medicine.
This chilling effect is especially troublesome given that Congress has prioritized increasing the number of health care providers who prescribe buprenorphine to treat OUD.
This is an excellent document making all the valid arguments to change the direction of the damaging, and even lethal, approaches currently enacted and proposed.