On Friday the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear Richard Paey's appeal of the 25-year sentence he received for "drug trafficking," which in his case amounted to obtaining narcotics for the treatment of his own severe chronic pain with prescriptions his doctor denied writing after they became the subject of a police investigation. Reason contributor Maia Szalavitz notes at The Huffington Post that "Paey—who suffers both multiple sclerosis and from the aftermath of a disastrous and barbaric back surgery that resulted in multiple major malpractice judgments—now receives virtually twice as much morphine in prison than the equivalent in opioid medications for which he was convicted of forging prescriptions."The Huffington Post has more on the dissenting judge:
In the decision the state Supreme Court refused to review, a Florida appeals court nevertheless ruled that his sentence was not "grossly disprortionate" enough to violate the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishments." At the same time, the court urged Paey to seek clemency from the governor as a remedy for a sentence that a dissenting judge called "illogical, absurd, unjust, and unconstitutional." That, aside from an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, seems to be the only recourse still open to him.
In a jeremiad of a dissent, Judge James Seals called the sentence "illogical, absurd, unjust and unconstitutional," noting that Paey "could conceivably go to prison for a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully purchasing 100 oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at knife point, stolen fifty oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist."
Maia Szalavitz quotes an expert's opinion on her own blog:
Writing in support of clemency, leading academic pain specialist Russell Portenoy, MD, said, "the information available indicates that any questionable actions [Paey] took, actions which led ultimately to his arrest, were driven by desperation related to uncontrolled pain."
He noted that such cases "may increase the reluctance of professionals to treat pain aggressively."
Portenoy wrote that despite the fact that Paey required high doses of opioids, those doses were "clearly in the range used by pain specialists in this country." He stressed that, "The number of pills or milligrams of an opioid required for analgesia says nothing about any of the negative outcomes associated with these drugs-including abuse, addiction and diversion-and reference to the amount of drug as evidence of these outcomes by regulators or law enforcement should not be condoned."
The American people should be ashamed at the damage we do in the name of the "War on Drugs." Let's hope Florida Gov. Charlie Crist steps up and does the right thing. While we're dreaming, let's hope the legislators in Washington start showing either the ability to reason or some basic compassion and rewrite or discard the obscene laws that make this sort of thing possible.