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So, you call this a victory in the drug war?
date: 21-July-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
Like all good people elsewhere, paraphernalia now feels much safer since that vicious Richard Paey is in jail. Thank you, Jeb Bush, for your good work. As for calling it a victory, paraphernalia thinks that the writer of this article should refer to the Iraq War lexicon to update his vocabulary......

WHEN I visited Richard Paey, it quickly became clear that he posed no menace to society in his new home here in Zephyrhills, Fla., a high-security state prison near Tampa, where he was serving a 25-year sentence. The fences, topped with ribbon wire, were more than enough to keep him from escaping because Paey relies on a wheelchair to get around.
Paey, who is 46, suffers from multiple sclerosis and chronic pain from an automobile accident two decades ago. It damaged his spinal cord and left him with sharp pains in his legs that got worse after a botched operation. One night he woke up convinced that the room was on fire, only to realize it was his legs.

It felt like my legs were in a vat of molten steel, he told me. I couldnt move them, and they were burning.

His wife, Linda, an optometrist, supported him and their three children as he tried to find an alternative to opiates. At first, I was mad at him for not being able to get better without the medicines, she said. But when hes tried every kind of therapy they suggested and hes still curled up in a ball at night crying from pain, what else can he do but take more medicine?

The problem was getting the medicine from doctors who are afraid of the federal and local crusades against painkillers. Paey managed to find a doctor willing to give him some relief, but it was a vegetative dose, in his wifes words.

It was enough for him to lay in bed, Linda Paey said. But if he tried to sit through dinner or use the computer or go to the kids recital, it would set off a crisis, and wed be in the emergency room. We kept going back for more medicine because he wasnt getting enough.

As he took more pills, Paey came under surveillance by police officers who had been monitoring prescriptions. Although they found no evidence that hed sold drugs, they raided his home and arrested him.

What followed was a legal saga pitting Paey against his longtime doctor (and former friend of the Paeys), who denied giving Paey some of the prescriptions. Paey said the doctor did give them to him. He said the doctor had been pressured into testifying against him because the doctor himself was vulnerable to prosecution for not keeping the proper records and seeing him often enough.

Paey was convicted of forging prescriptions. He was subject to a 25-year minimum penalty because he illegally possessed Percocet and other pills that weighed more than 28 grams, enough to classify him as a drug trafficker under Floridas draconian law (which treats even a few dozen pain pills as a large stash of cocaine).

Scott Andringa, the prosecutor in the case, acknowledged that the 25-year mandatory penalty was harsh, but he said Paey was to blame for refusing a plea bargain that would have kept him out of jail.

Paey said he had refused the deal partly out of principle I didnt want to plead guilty to something that I didnt do and partly because he feared hed be in pain the rest of his life because doctors would be afraid to write prescriptions for anyone with a drug conviction.

If you think that sounds paranoid, you havent talked to other chronic-pain patients whove become victims of the government campaigns against prescription drugs. Whether these efforts have done any good is debatable (and a topic for another column), but the harm is clear to the millions of patients who arent getting enough medicine for their pain.

Paey was merely the most outrageous example of the problem as he spent his days in prison, lying on a 3-inch foam mattress on a steel bed. He told me he tried not to do anything to aggravate his condition because going to the emergency room required an excruciating four-hour trip sitting in a wheelchair with his arms and legs in chains.

The odd thing, he said, was that hes actually getting better medication than he did at the time of his arrest because the state of Florida is now supplying him with a morphine pump, which gives him more pain relief than the pills that triggered so much suspicion.

Weve become mad in our pursuit of drug-law violations, he said. Generations to come will look back and scarcely believe what weve done to sick people.

John Tierney writes for the New York Times.

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