Hit & Run

25 Years for Being 'Stubborn'

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Last week Richard Paey, a Florida man who suffers from terrible back pain as a result of a car accident and unsuccessful surgery, received a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking. After moving from New Jersey to Florida 10 years ago, Paey could not find a local doctor willing to prescribe the large amounts of opioids he needed to relieve his pain, so he started filling out blank prescription forms he obtained from his New Jersey doctor. Although these prescriptions led to drug trafficking charges, there is no evidence that Paey used the drugs for anything other than his own pain relief.

"I kept waiting to hear that he was selling them somehow," one juror who regrets voting to convict told the St. Petersburg Times. "If he was selling them, that's one thing. But he was eating them." The fact that prosecutors at one point offered a Paey a plea agreement involving house arrest and probation (a far cry from 25 years in prison) suggests they knew he was not a drug trafficker.

An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times that condemned the government's unjust treatment of Paey also faulted him for "stubbornly" refusing the proposed plea agreement. The paper's story about Paey's sentence likewise described him as "stubborn." But Paey, who uses a wheelchair to get around and is receiving morphine through a pump while in jail, refuses to identify himself as a criminal merely for doing what he had to do to obtain the medication he needed. "I hope never to hear the word 'stubborn' used to describe Richard Paey again," says Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network. "He is a principled and courageous man who has sacrificed himself to demonstrate the hidden and denied reality facing patients in pain."