Guard Against Overzealousness

The health care industry, ranging from pharmaceuticals companies down to physicians, certainly has contributed to the substance abuse crisis. Overwhelmingly, however, health care practitioners did so involuntarily. They believed drug company assurances that there was only a minuscule risk of addiction to opioid painkillers.

A few, however, became addicted themselves and became active participants by writing prescriptions they knew they should not have. And some had other motives for providing patients and others with access to opioids.

Police and prosecutors are active in cracking down on these bad apples — too energetically, some worry.

A few weeks ago, two Weirton doctors accused of unlawfully distributing Suboxone were acquitted of the charges in federal court. Suboxone is used often to help those addicted to opioids. It can be misused, however.

Both doctors, who were employed at Redirections Treatment Advocates in Weirton, were indicted in May 2018 on charges of conspiracy and distribution of controlled substances.

But there was a flaw in the case, as one of the doctors’ attorneys, Steve Stallings, pointed out. “One of the things we showed at trial was that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent showed false testimony to the grand jury,” he explained.

The problem went deeper, Stallings added. “I think (former U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions was very interested in showing they were making progress in this war, so they were over-aggressive and over-charging anyone they could charge.”

He added that the investigation “was done very sloppily throughout.”

Another attorney for one of the defendants, Michael Nogay, commented that, “The government incorrectly went after the people trying to help with addiction.”

Policing health care professionals who may be contributing, perhaps even inadvertently, to the substance abuse crisis is important. But there can be a fine line between energetic enforcement of the law and overzealous pursuit. Care should be taken not to step over that line.

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