Criminalization of Pain #2

Julie Marks

Los Angeles, United States

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This a companion piece to my painterly photograph and editorial titled “the criminalization of pain.” Executive director of the Pain Relief Network, Siobhan Reynolds has devoted her life to patients who suffer pain and those who treat them. I have known Siobhan for many years and was devastated when I learned of her husband’’s death, Sean who had a brain embolism after his doctor was imprisioned for treating his severe pain. Using the bark of a tree,
I am representing the agony of patients when refused appropriate medication to treat extreme pain. The harsh reality is that people who endure severe pain often find out how difficult it is to find a doctor to treat chronic or intractable pain. It is an alarming crisis in the US and around the world and most people do not think about this serious and often ignored problem until the reality of untreated pain involves them or their loved ones.

Good physicians are bearing the wrath of the federal government, specifically the drug enforcement agency. It is common sense that Medical boards need to revoke licenses from those doctors in any medical practice who do not follow legal and ethical medical procedures without the best interests of their patients as their primary focus. Most people expect good medical care in the United States. Up until the middle 90’s, patients were treated for pain, but since then, physicians have been unable to deal adequately with their patients suffering due to their fear of federal prosecution. Most people don’t think of doctors treating pain inadequately and are unaware of the increasing raids of doctor’s offices and seizing of medical records by our federal government. Thousands of people who are critically or chronically ill and in severe pain are caught in a terrible crisis. Siobhan Reynolds and Frank Fisher, M.D. addressed the Congress to change the Controlled Substances Act. Siobhan was able to reduce the time doctor’s were sentenced to imprisonment. I am appalled by what I have experienced as a pain patient and have stayed informed for myself and my patients with the help of Siobhan Reynolds. I join her fight to reverse this travesty and have written to my Congressional representatives to reinforce her efforts. You can hear taped interviews of her and
Frank Fisher on her website, pain relief network. She speaks about a doctor facing a prison sentence for 100 years. The DEA feels this doctor was fooled when she wrote two prescriptions in her office in South Carolina. It is a personal and professional mission of mine that patients receive appropriate pain care in the United States and countries around the world.
Last month Colin Cartwright spoke of his “torture” due to serious medical conditions and the response to his and Sophie Shapiro’s painting was very touching reinforcing his will to live until he hopefully can find help. He wrote me and said
he started painting again which for now is his therapy and most effective “medicine.”

Research studies have shown that although stoke or heart attack is reported as the cause of death that in reality patients die due
to unbearable pain and agony that when untreated with appropriate medication is the cause of the stroke, heart attack, brain embolism
and other conditions. The truth is that many deaths like Sean Redmond’s could have been avoided if doctors had the freedom to prescribe
pain medication without the harsh consequences
of revoked medical licenses and/or long prison sentences including life imprisonment. I have seen patients who have an extremely difficult time finding doctors who will prescribe opiates including cancer patients when there can be no rational for refusing medication in the last stages of a terminal disease leaving the patient helpless and unable to use the medications that were developed to help them die with dignity, not in a state of unbearable agony, but as a result of the actions of the drug enforcement agency. The fear is a few addicts might slip through the cracks followed by immediate prosecution. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have each case evaluated by medical peer review rather than treat compassionate doctors as criminals who are risking their lives as well as their patients? There have been breakthroughs in pain medications for cancer patients and those who suffer from many other severely painful diseases that are so debilitating that the patient can not function in the work place, as a parent or productive member of society. How has medical research been served
when the medications so desperately needed
are not prescribed often resulting in suicide when
an individual feels there is no other option? As I stated in my last narrative, “the criminalization of
pain”, I urge you to be informed about this crisis. Begin with reading the content on the pain relief network and also Siobhan Reynold’s informed and intelligent testimony to the United States Congress. We all are vulnerable to the consequences of this serious medical crisis. People not only suffer needlessly, but millions of deaths are attributed to the brutal punishment the body sustains from very severe and intractable pain.

The steady stream of celebrity stories about prescription drug abuse makes Americans keenly aware of the dangers of overdosing on medications like OxyContin and Vicodin. And from President Obama’s Drug Czar to California Attorney General Jerry Brown, politicians are calling for greater power to monitor doctor-patient relationships in order to fight the “epidemic” of prescription drug overdosing. But, maybe the real epidemic is underdosing. Countless Americans suffer with severe chronic pain because doctors are afraid to treat them properly.

Michael Jackson’s death unleashed a flurry of media stories about all aspects of the pop star’s life, including his alleged prescription drug abuse. On the same day countless millions watched Jackson’s star-studded memorial service.

Seán Clarke-Redmond, a man who enjoyed an active life before the neurodegenerative disease ALS, often referred to as Lou Gerig’s disease, rendered him nearly immobile and in constant
pain. Is it humane
to punish the patient as a result of the
federal government’s war on drugs? Redman was prescribed some medication, but not nearly enough to keep his pain under control. Dr. Frank Fisher says Redman’s case is an appallingly common one. “Chronic pain in America is an enormously under treated disease,” says Fisher, a Harvard-trained physician. “It’s a public health disaster.”

Pain specialists like Fisher and patients’ groups like the Pain Relief Network battle law enforcement officials who are forever on the lookout for “pill mills” and patients who misuse pain medicine. Fisher notes that the same medications so often associated with celebrity addiction are the same medications that combat pain most effectively. I have talked to Dr.
Fisher on several occassions and after
seven years, his medical license has
been reinstated. He treated pain patients
in a poor rural community and after his
imprisonment, many lost hope and their life
as a result of suicide or death due to
untreated pain. Dr Fisher will not return
to pain management as a physician and admits
that he suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) as a result of the trauma he
experienced as a qualified doctor who specialized in pain management.

Fisher has treated his patients with high doses of opioids-that is, until a swat team raided his clinic and threw him behind bars. “They were trying to give me 256 years to life,” says Fisher who argues that fear of prosecution often prevents doctors from treating chronic pain patients effectively. What allows doctors’ medical decisions to be overruled by police?
“What we’re dealing with is mass insanity,” says Fisher. “We call it the war on drugs.”
I welcome your comments on this serious
and often unknown and silent crisis that
not only affects me personally, but has
impacted my professional life. Thankfully, there are some doctors who have kept careful records
and knowing the risk continue to treat patients
with compassion and excellent medical
judgment.

Artwork Comments

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