It Seemed Like an Awful Lot of Pills to Us


Last night's 60 Minutes segment about Florida pain patient cum "drug trafficker" Richard Paey was very sympathetic to him without being heavy-handed, mainly letting the facts (and a highly articulate Paey) speak for themselves. Morley Safer highlighted an important element of Paey's appeal: contradictions in statements by Paey's New Jersey doctor, who initially confirmed that he had authorized the narcotic prescriptions that were the basis for the criminal charges against Paey, then changed his story to help the prosecution, apparently to avoid being charged himself. In an interview with Safer, the state prosecutor who handled the case, Scott Adringa, acknowledged these inconsistencies but defended the decision to pursue charges against Paey that resulted in a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Andringa also conceded the government had found no evidence that Paey sold any of the drugs on the black market but argued that Paey could not possibly have consumed all of them himself. Pain expert Russell Portenoy easily rebutted this claim, noting that patients who develop tolerance to opioids may end up taking doses that seem enormous to people unfamiliar with long-term pain treatment–doses that would kill someone unaccustomed to narcotics.

Although Adringa is still pushing this uninformed argument, it was not necessary to convict Paey or to earn him his draconian sentence. As Andringa explained to Safer, Florida's mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking applies to illegal possession of narcotics above an arbitrarily defined weight threshold–a threshold so low that one bottle of pills can send you to prison for 25 years.