Dr. Stephen Ziegler: Today, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who prescribe drugs are at an increased risk of investigation and prosecution. Last year in a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, they stated, “With opioid addiction ravaging communities across the nation, we are going to fight against doctors who are handing out prescriptions like candy. We are determined to stem the tide of the crisis and we will use all the legal authorities at our disposal — both criminal and civil.” They went on to say that, “The DEA has teams of investigators specialized in finding negligence when writing perilous prescription, which can cause a harmful addiction or potential overdose. The DEA will investigate the doctors who conduct this kind of practice and continue to combat the opioid crisis.”
Of course, what is missing from that statement about the opioid crisis is the fact that the primary cause of overdose in the United States involves the use of illicit opioids like counterfeit fentanyl or heroin, drugs that are made in someone’s garage or smuggled into the United States.
Putting these alarming statements aside for a moment, prescription drugs can treat disease and can help healthcare professionals reduce human suffering by treating pain and managing symptoms. Depending on the patient and their condition, pain can be treated and symptoms managed in a variety of ways. And often times, that treatment will involve the use of prescription drugs — legal drugs that are controlled by federal and state law.
While prescription pain medication has helped millions of people, like any intervention it carries risk to the individual. It also carries risk to healthcare professionals who prescribe drugs to treat pain, who are being investigated and prosecuted by various regulators or law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level.
In earlier episodes, I discussed cases against prescribers that were clear-cut violations of law. Cases where healthcare professionals could easily be described as nothing more than illegal drug traffickers, or those who abuse their prescribing authority for their own selfish ends; trading prescription drugs for sex is but one example.
Today, our focus is different. Instead of focusing on doctors who clearly abuse their prescribing authority and end up placing people in pain and everyone else at risk, we focus on what could be described as “Politics by other means.” Where the government is trying to achieve some positive outcome, but instead of passing a law to achieve that result that helps everyone, they instead use the criminal justice system and its power to investigate and prosecute.
Joining us today is Mr. Ron Chapman. Mr. Chapman is a defense attorney with the Chapman Law Group, and their website for their organization is chapmanlawgroup.com. He also writes a healthcare defense blog that can be easily found online at healthcaredefenseblog.com. Mr. Chapman, thank you for coming on the show today.
Ronald Chapman II: Well, thank you very much for having me.
Dr. Stephen Ziegler: Can you tell us more about you and the work that you do?
Ronald Chapman II: I am, as you stated, a defense attorney, and I primarily defend physicians and other healthcare providers who have been accused of violations of the Controlled Substances Act and also healthcare fraud. I’ve handled cases across the United States, quite a few of them to trial acquittal, on behalf of physicians accused of unlawful prescribing of opiates and other types of medications.
I got into this practice about eight years ago after I came out of the United States Marine Corps. While I was there, I was a prosecutor. I was prosecuting cases, including drug cases, on behalf of the United States. When I finished with the Marine Corps, I decided I wanted to be on the defense side after seeing what I was seeing in the prosecutor’s office, and since then I’ve been fighting on behalf of doctors and pain patients, to disrupt the government’s efforts at attacking pain.
Dr. Stephen Ziegler: I have worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney myself. Although prosecutors and defense attorneys have adversarial roles, they should share the common goal of justice and fairness. Defense attorneys, for example, protect the rights of the accused but end up protecting all of us in the process by asserting the rights of others and ensuring that the Constitution continues to protect us from government overreach; whereas a prosecutors’ job, in my view, is really to seek justice, not merely convict. But when prosecutors are elected or they are connected somehow to the political process, that is easier said than done. What do you think?
Ronald Chapman II: Well, the statement in your opening remarks, “politics by other means,” I think it was spot on. We’ve seen the Department of Justice and most federal prosecutors’ offices or U.S. Attorney’s offices, utilize the tools available to prosecute doctors as a political tool in order to stem what they believe is the cause of the opioid epidemic.
As a result, we’ve seen many politically fueled prosecutions against doctors, and the way that we know these prosecutions are politically fueled, it’s because the Department of Justice ignores the facts related to the opioid epidemic and the causes. Illicit fentanyl is actually a leading cause of drug overdoses.
Despite that fact, the majority of the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and the DEA’s efforts, have been through targeting physicians accused of overprescribing, as if the prescription of controlled substances is the cause of the opioid epidemic.
The reality here is that prosecutions of physicians do two things for the Department of Justice. First, they give highly publicized results for not a lot of effort. Second, they put a lot of money back in the coffers of the United States and allow federal prosecutors to say to Congress, and other lawmakers, that they’ve done a good job in stopping the opioid epidemic and healthcare fraud through collection of millions of dollars from prosecuted physicians.