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Prosecutors Try to Silence Pain Activist, Don't Like Fair Play

Posted: 04/08/08 05:52 PM ET

When prosecutors want to convict a doctor of "drug dealing," they often sow suspicions by alerting the media. But in a Kansas case, they appear to be fighting dirty by trying to prevent the other side from speaking out.

The pattern can be seen most famously in coverage by the New York Times of Oxycontin. Before the doctors at a South Carolina clinic were convicted of any crime, the Times reported that law enforcement called the clinic "the epicenter of OxyContin abuse," in the area. In loaded language, the same story described Oxycontin as the "clinic's drug of choice," and labeled the medical center "an apparent hotbed of abuse."

The story described lines outside the clinic and relied on law enforcement sources to portray it as a source of illegal drugs, not medical care. No patients or pharmacists who supported the doctors were quoted -- only pharmacists who were suspicious and a patient who sued the clinic, blaming it for her addiction.

The physicians at that clinic were ultimately either convicted of narcotics sales or pled guilty to avoid lengthy prison sentences. One committed suicide rather than testify against his colleagues because he believed they were innocent, according to his brother.

But in another case against a doctor, Siobhan Reynolds and her Pain Relief Network got to the media early. When prosecutors tried to portray Paul Heberle as a "pusher with a pen," Reynolds organized his patients to tell their stories of pain relief, not addiction. Heberle was exonerated.

Reynolds has just organized patients of Kansas physician Stephen Schneider and his wife Linda, who are facing similar trafficking charges. The AP has covered the story as one with two sides -- including the legitimate need for access pain relief, not just focusing on the prosecution's storyline of evil doctors pushing patients into addiction.

And the prosecution doesn't like this -- so it has asked the judge to place a gag order on not just the physicians' lawyers, but on Reynolds. When the public learns that these cases aren't simply about doctors selling drugs -- and when they realize that they themselves may someday need access to pain medications, which is blocked when doctors fear prosecution if they prescribe -- these cases have very different outcomes.

When people see legitimate patients suffering because their doctor has been arrested and other doctors fear prescribing to them, when they see addicts trying to make money by suing doctors for causing their addiction (Oxycontin's manufacturer hasn't lost a single one of the hundreds of such cases that have been filed, primarily because most addicts can be shown to have been using drugs long before they ever got a pain pill from a doctor), the cases don't look the way the prosecution wants them to appear.

It is an outrage against democracy to suggest that an activist be gagged to keep them in the dark to support a misguided drug war.

 
 
 

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