Ron Paul was a strong proponent in the United States House of Representatives of ending the US government’s war on doctors who prescribe pain medication and on their patients who rely on the medication to relieve pain. This war has been a subset of the larger war on drugs and one that is in many ways easier to fight than taking on actual drug-running organizations that use stealth and violence as tools of the trade.
In a House floor speech on July 7, 2004 in favor of his bill amendment intended to end US government prosecutions of doctors for prescribing pain medicines. Paul explained that doctors were “being prosecuted by the Justice Department under the laws that were designated for going after drug kingpins, for illegal drug dealers.” This situation, Paul explained, came about because of the development of a “system where a Federal bureaucrat makes the medical decision about whether or not a doctor has prescribed too many pain pills.”
Instead of this course that resulted in doctors being punished for practicing medicine and patients being deprived of pain relief, Paul, who was a doctor as well as Republican House member from Texas, offered the following solution:
My suggestion here is to deny the funding to the Justice Department to prosecute these modest numbers, 3 or 400 doctors, leave that monitoring to the States where it should be in the first place, and let us get rid of this idea that some bureaucrat in Washington can determine how many pain pills I, as a physician, can give a patient that may be suffering from cancer.
On Monday the United States Supreme Court, while not going so far as Paul proposed in his House floor speech, did impose a significant check on the prosecution of doctors for prescribing pain medicines. Jacob Sullum describes how the decision restrains prosecution of doctors for prescribing pain medicines in the first two paragraphs of a Tuesday Reason article. Sullum writes:
The Supreme Court today unanimously sided with two physicians who were convicted of drug trafficking based on opioid prescriptions that federal prosecutors portrayed as medically inappropriate. Six justices said the government is required to prove that a doctor “knowingly or intentionally” exceeded the authorization for medical use of controlled substances. Three justices disagreed with the majority’s legal analysis but concluded that a doctor cannot be convicted of drug trafficking if he acted in “good faith.”
The decision in Ruan v. United States sends both cases back to the lower courts so they can assess the defendants’ arguments that the instructions received by the juries that convicted them misstated the law seriously enough that they are entitled to new trials. But whether or not they prevail on those claims, the ruling represents an important limit on prosecutions that have long had a chilling effect on pain treatment. Physicians who prescribe opioids based on an honest belief that they are practicing good medicine now have less reason to fear that they will nevertheless face federal charges that could send them to prison for decades.
Read the rest of Sullum’s article regarding the new Supreme Court decision here.