Thursday, December 07, 2006

Deeply Disturbing Case in the "War on Drugs"

Today, Richard Paey sits in a wheelchair behind high walls and razor wire in a high-security prison near Daytona Beach. Paey is a 46-year-old father of three, and a paraplegic. His condition is the result of a car accident, a botched back surgery, and a case of multiple sclerosis — three setbacks that have left him in a chronic, debilitating state of pain. After moving to Florida from New Jersey, Paey found it increasingly difficult to get prescriptions for the pain medication he needed to function normally — to support his family, and to be a parent to his children.

Paey's difficulties finding treatment were in large part due to federal- and state-government efforts to prevent the illegal use — or "diversion," as the feds call it — of prescription pain medicine. Doctors today face fines, suspension, the loss of license or practice, the seizure of property, or even prison time in the event that drug cops (most of whom have no medical training) decide they are prescribing too many painkillers. As a result, physicians are understandably apprehensive about aggressively treating pain.

Like many pain patients, Paey found himself on the blunt end of such policies. He went from doctor to doctor, looking for someone to give him the medication he needed. By the time he eventually turned to his old New Jersey doctor for help, he had already attracted the attention of Florida drug-control authorities. What happened next is disputed, but it ended with Paey getting arrested, getting his home raided, and eventually getting convicted of drug distribution.

Paey insists his old doctor wrote him the prescriptions he needed. The Florida pharmacists who testified at his trial back him up. But the doctor says he forged the prescriptions. For his part, Paey holds no animus against his former doctor. Cops gave the doctor a devil's bargain — give Paey up, or face 25-years-to-life imprisonment for the excessive proscribing [sic, I assume --JA] of painkillers. Paey still maintains the prescriptions were legitimate, but understands why his doctor turned against him...

State prosecutors concede there's no evidence Paey ever sold or gave his medication away. Nevertheless, under draconian drug-war statutes, these prosecutors could pursue distribution charges against him based solely on the amount of medication he possessed (the unauthorized possession of as few as 60 tablets of some pain medications can qualify a person as a "drug trafficker").

After three trials, Richard Paey was convicted and put in prison for 25 years, effectively a life sentence for someone in his condition. Ironically, the state of Florida now pays for a morphine pump connected to Paey's spine which delivers the same class of medication at the same doses the state of Florida told him wasn't necessary, and put him in prison for trying to obtain.

(The National Review, via TheAgitator)

There's much more, including the admission that he was given a harsher sentence for turning down a plea bargain and alleged severe retaliation by the state of Florida for talking to reporters.

I'll let the National Review do my editorializing:

The Paey case has already cast a good deal of shame on the state of Florida. Just how much more shame his story brings to the state depends on whether political leaders move to rectify his plight, or rather choose simply to ignore him, and continue to intimidate him into spending the rest of his 25-year prison term in silence.

Governor Bush should free Richard Paey. And Florida lawmakers should pass reforms to ensure that drug-war fanaticism no longer prevents sick people from getting the medication they need.


DK said...

It's interesting to me that even hardcore Jewish Republicans I meet are uncomfortable with this aspect of the "War on Drugs." It's just too counter to our belief system and culture.

JDHURF said...

25 years!? If this is not a sober and shocking reminder of what a disastrous, callous and socially immoral policy the “war on drugs” is, then nothing is; although I have read a few stories which were more horrific than this one.

Skcorefil said...

There were laws broken and dangerous addictive drugs can't just be sold on the black market with the police turning their back even if the suspected dealer doesn't fit the gangster image. But 25 years! How is that at all anything but cruel and unusual? Why did this end up being more than a slap on the wrist?

Anonymous said...

This makes want to go and drink a whole of legal dangerous addictive alcohol.

Flippy said...

skcorefil, what laws were broken? A doctor prescribed pain meds, a patient in pain took them. He didn't sell them.

I'm so glad I've found doctors who aren't afraid to give out pain meds. I had a herniated disc and had surgery in April. Before the surgery, I was in so much pain that without meds, I wouldn't have had any life at all; even with the meds, it was difficult. And I'm sure that I was probably in less pain than someone with a variety of things to put him in a wheelchair.

Laura said...

Don't even get me started on the drug war. I know a woman in a wheelchair from MS who uses medical marijuana and has been arrested several times - despite the fact that the treatment provides her enough motor stability to actually WALK on her own.

The war on drugs is pointless and futile and it sucks far too many resources and lives into black holes.

Some of you might find interesting. It's a non profit policy research center that tackles just these types of issues...

Half Sigma said...

"It's interesting to me that even hardcore Jewish Republicans I meet are uncomfortable with this aspect of the "War on Drugs.""

What does this have to do with being Republican? Is there a single Democrat in Congress who proposes ending the drug war? There have been prominent Republicans like George Schultz opposed to the war on drugs.

beepbeepitsme said...

A war on drugs is counter-productive. Always has been, Always will be. Maybe that is why drugs are so popular. Who knows..

Aginoth said...

I'm shocked! US cops are better qualified than Dr's to decide who needs what medication? Dr's face fines/inprisonment for doing their job?

I am, once again, glad I live in the UK, where we expect Dr's to do their own job and use their professional opinion as to what to prescribe, to whom, and how much is required. Of course, there are restrictions - some drugs are still illegal (noticably marijuana), and some need special permission from a board of Dr's (if they are particularly expensive, or still in trials), but the "war on drugs" here sticks to selling (and occasionally buying) of illegal drugs. A patient could be prosecuted for selling prescription medication, but the Dr has not done anything illegal in prescribing it!

This means that when we need medication, the first place we turn is to our Dr - who can ensure we get the correct & best treatment - rather than just buying the scary stuff we get spammed about from US sites!

asher said...

This country is terrible. This kind of thing goes on all the time. We have to's the only way we can make our voices heard

Jewish Atheist said...


Wow! Is this the first time we've agreed on anything? :-)

Jewish Atheist said...

(Not that I agree that "this country is terrible," of course.)

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "What if America Tortured During WWII?"

What is interesting about this question is that it was a german line of defense @ the nazi war trials. Or, an attempted one at least.

It was deemed to be a tu quoque fallacy.

"An example of its use in court was in the Nuremberg Trials, where the defendants attempted to introduce a tu quoque argument, in claiming that the Allies too had committed crimes similar to those of which the Nazi regime was accused. (This line of defense was eventually not allowed by the court's judges.)"

I often consider what would have happened had the allies and the US lost WW2. How would dropping the atomic bombs on japan have been justified?

I think that had we have lost, the US may also have been tried for war crimes.

Essentially, it seems that it is the victor who determines if war crimes have been committed.