The Richard Paey story, a prisoner of pain
Richard Paey's orginial "Wall Post" for the November Coalition read:
February 2005: Florida Prison, Zephyrhills, FL
By Richard V. Paey
Day after day more Americans speak out against the ever escalating War on Drugs. While noble in concept it has been ignominious in application. Our government has seemingly forgot the age old wisdom that in war, the first casualty is always the truth. Florida's attempt to expand the definition of drug trafficking so that patients filling doctors prescriptions are now potential defendants. It doesn't matter the patient had a medical need for the medication.
If the state can show your doctor acted outside the course of their professional practice then the prescriptions are illegal. If the prescriptions are illegal and you have more than 28 grams (50-70 pills) that makes you a drug trafficker. And that's what happened to Richard Paey, a 46 year old family man from Pasco County, Florida. It didn't save him that he suffered from intractable pain caused by multiple sclerosis and failed spine surgery. All that mattered was the State could convince a jury the prescriptions were illegal - even if the illegality was caused by something Richard's doctor did or didn't do.
Here's what happened. To some its another example that the War on Drugs is out-of-control. It may also help explain why "pain is woefully under treated in Florida". The situation is so dire Florida had to pass special legislation to combat the fear of investigation that has caused some doctors to stop treating pain patients (the "chilling effect"). For over 2 1/2 years Richard Paey received prescriptions from his doctor that were filled at local pharmacies. In 1997 Pasco sheriffs started a secret pharmacy surveillance program intended to identify people believed to be taking excessive medication. In the mind of the sheriffs, excessive medication was evidence of a potential crime. How they decided what was excessive, nobody knows, it was a gut determination. Because the deputy believed Richard Paey took excessive medication, police put him under surveillance - for 3 months. They found nothing.
Undeterred by the lack of evidence sheriff's deputy's decided the doctor was also a suspect. Because the doctor continued to authorize prescriptions the sheriff felt they had to approach the doctor with that they called a "ruse"- an intentional lie. They decided to tell the doctor his patient was selling the medication and the doctor faced 25 years in prison for sending the prescriptions to Florida. What did the sheriff expect the doctor to say? With news he faced prosecution (utter ruin) the doctor began to "back pedal". In what police acknowledged was an incredible story, the doctor claimed he had been "lying" when he told pharmacists he wrote the prescriptions. He didn't write them, he said, he didn't know who wrote them, apparently. He had authorized them because he was helping his patient. In short, when told he faced prosecution for writing the prescriptions he told a new story.
Police arrested Richard alleging the prescriptions were illegal because they were not written by the doctor. The fact the doctor made the allegation only after being told he faced prosecution, didn't matter. All that mattered was they had someone to swear to the allegation. Although the state originally alleged the doctor was duped into authorizing prescriptions and lying to pharmacists the state did its own back pedaling when the allegation was recanted by the doctor at trial. Ordinarily recanting an allegation before the jury ends the trial, but not here. The state told the jury they should convict regardless of what the doctor said in court. According to the prosecutor, the prescriptions were illegal simply because they had been written or issued 6 weeks after Richardâ·s last medical exam. It was still drug trafficking, the jury was told.
If you think the prosecution demonstrates the War on Drugs is out-of- control, you won't be surprised by what the jury did during deliberation! When jurors could not agree on a verdict, the persuasive jury foreman told the group it was okay to vote for guilt because he, the jury foreman, knew the defendant would only get probation. Unfortunately, the foreman was terribly wrong. The judge had to impose the mandatory sentence of 25 years.
Today the defendant is housed in a prison infirmary awaiting his appeal. Because he was convicted of drug trafficking, he could not be released pending appeal -like murderers and rapists. He want directly to prison. The drug trafficking statute contains harsh provisions intended to make convictions easier. It did.
Has the War on Drugs gone too far, is it out of control? This case seemingly says YES. Did you know Floridians are suffering unnecessarily because many doctors are afraid of police knocking on their door? According to Florida Hospice, even terminally ill patients are being under treated, a situation attributed directly to overzealous enforcement officers.
Did Florida have to adopt special legislation telling doctors its okay to prescribe to pain patients; that large doses, even over the patients lifetime may be necessary? Has the law alleviated doctor's fears or has the situation gotten worse?
Can juries, should juries decide when your doctors prescriptions is illegal because its "not written in the course of the doctors professional practice"?
If experts in medicine disagree on how much is excessive or whether 6 weeks between visits is too long, how can a jury?
Would you want police to test your doctors courage using a "ruse"? Are the officers overzealous in their pursuit of prosecutions? What is drug trafficking if its not trafficking? Is trafficking filling an prescription made "illegal" by some decision your doctor made?
What should be done to help ensure intractable pain patients can find treatment? Is the current Controlled Substance Act (1970) part of the problem?
Did mandatory minimums help in creating a fair, equitable sentence in Richard's case? According to Richard's attorney, this is the first prosecution of a patient for something his doctor did or didn't do. Was Richard a drug trafficker or a victim?