Opioids

Beware, Pain-Sufferers: Jeff Sessions Is Coming for Your Doctor

A new push to imprison those who prescribe too many opioids

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Jeff Sessions
Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Sipa/Newscom

I praised a new report from a federal opioid commission yesterday because its proposals to stop the increase in deadly drug overdoses did not include harsher laws or criminal sentences. It should have occurred to me that Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't need the encouragement.

Today Sessions announced a new task force devoted to fighting opioid overdoses by going after doctors who overprescribe the drugs. He's not even trying to sugarcoat it—he wants to put doctors in prison cells. From the Justice Department's press release:

Speaking at the Columbus Police Academy today, Attorney General Sessions said that the new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit will focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud using data to identify and prosecute individuals that are contributing to this prescription opioid epidemic.

Additionally, as part of the program, the Department will fund twelve experienced Assistant United States Attorneys for a three year term to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting health care fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes.

The Department of Justice is clearly suggesting that it will focus on practices that simply hand out prescriptions like perfume samples and don't actually keep an eye on dosages or signs of addiction. But if you read further, you'll see the department is going to decide what the appropriate amount of opioid use is. And the consequences for falling outside the norms could be severe. From Sessions' speech:

This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information about prescription opioids—like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.

With this data in hand, I am also assigning 12 experienced prosecutors to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud cases in a dozen locations around the country where we know enforcement will make a difference in turning the tide on this epidemic. These prosecutors, working with FBI, DEA, HHS, as well as our state and local partners, will help us target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets.

When you get a bunch of prosecutors together to tell them to fight opioid abuse, we know what's going to happen. They're going to look for doctors to prosecute, and they're certainly not going to go back to Sessions and tell him they don't see any likely targets.

Every single doctor who prescribes pain medication in the areas the Department of Justice is monitoring now has a target on his or her back. Every chronic pain-sufferer who turns to these doctors for assistance will now be treated as a potential addict and faces heightened chances of being denied medication.

The most logical outcome is that more people will turn to the black market to try to find some relief or to fulfill their cravings if they're addicts (or both—those aren't exclusive states). This ultimately increases the possibility that addicts and pain-sufferers will take drugs whose origins and contents are not known, and thus increases the risk of harm. This is not a recipe for reducing drug overdoses.

Furthermore, this crackdown on doctors comes alongside Sessions' push to attack the illegal drug market as well. Bafflingly, in a speech Sessions gave today at a police academy in Columbus, Ohio, he made it clear he has absolutely no understanding of the relationship between government prohibitions and black markets: "Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun."

It's the government's fault people can't go to court to collect a drug debt. It's the government that has made drug trafficking "inherently violent" by making it a criminal franchise. He insists that government efforts to reduce demand has worked in fighting cigarette smoking, which will come as a surprise to all those people smuggling the cancer sticks into New York.

The federal Eastern District of California is included among the places being targeted for enforcement against physicians. Fortunately, that district does not include West Covina, where Reason TV recently interviewed Dr. Forest Tennant. Tennant argues that opioids are being overly demonized as painkillers and actual pain-sufferers are paying the price. Watch below:

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  1. This bullshit is already bad enough. My mother suffered agonizing pain in the last few years of her life because of it.

    Sessions can go fuck himself with a rusty chainsaw.

    1. How does he have time for this bullshit? Every waking moment of his life needs to be spent putting democrats in cages. So many guilty ones to go after. The Wasserbeast clearly has her hands in the cookie jar. Plus almost everyone connected the Clintons, plus the Clintons. Most of the Obama administration. Charlie Rangel. All the top level assholes at IRS, etc..

      Sessions needs to leave regular people alone and go after all the crooked communist pieces of shit.

      1. The Wasserbeast clearly has her hands in the cookie jar. Plus almost everyone connected the Clintons, plus the Clintons. Most of the Obama administration. Charlie Rangel. All the top level assholes at IRS, etc..

        Ah, but see they’re all member of the nobility and therefore immune to any consequences of their actions. Any or all of those people could sacrifice a baby in a full on black mass on live TV and nothing would happen to them.

        If there’s one thing the last several years should have taught us it’s that laws are for keeping us “peasants” in line, not to restrain the behavior of our “betters.”

        1. This guy is supposed to be some sort of law and order pitfall. If doesn’t have the balls to start throwing crooked democrats (pretty much all of them anymore) into prison when there’s so much low hanging fruit, then he needs to go.

          FFS, I’ll be AG. I have no qualms about going after all those commie scum. Hell, I would do it for free. The mirth generated from their scared, frowny faces when they get thrown in the can (ideally a maximum security SuperMax facility where they sit in an 8×10 cage 23 hours a day) would be compensation enough. Also, I would leave most of the drug related shit alone.

      2. He can’t do that because they might be in a position to do the same to him some day.

      3. Something about going after the opposition once you’re in power tends to sit poorly with people. I don’t know what it is, but the optics aren’t good

        Which is why you use the IRS

      4. Any specific allegation you’re referring to, or are you simply channeling FOX News spittle?

        1. 30k deleted emails and the server cleaned with bleach bit. Lois Lerners crimes.

          1. Oh, the horror.

            1. Many disagree you and Hillary’s mishandling of classified information is horrible and should be prosecuted.

              The true horror will come from lefties when Trump fires Sessions and the new AG has the FBI reinvestigate Hillary and recommend indictment.

              1. The cognitive dissonance of you people is a fucking medical freak show. Is it that they don’t mention anything on GOPravda about the current administration or what? You think it’s such a well-oiled machine it’s making no news?

                You don’t care about the law, you care about abusing government power to go after politicians you don’t like. You’re a terrible American, and you should be ashamed.

                1. Not everyone who posts here is a conservative redneck nutcase, Tony.

        2. The Clintons have a long list of heinous crimes you’ve undoubtedly spent years burying your head i the sand to avoid hearing. The Wasserbeast is now in big trouble. Then there’s all those scandals from Obama and his lackeys. Loretta Lynch should certainly be prosecuted for pressuring Comey into dropping the Clinton investigation (By his admission). Now there are all these admissions that Obama’s people had hundreds of people illegally ‘unmasked’ just last year.

          It goes on and on, but Tony, let’s be honest. Under no circumstances would you ever see any Party member in good standing prosecuted for anything, no matter how guilty they are, right?

          Oh, and fuck you Tony.

          1. So the entire law enforcement apparatus is in the tank? Lemme guess, you still believe in the Clinton Body Count emails that circulated in the early days of email?

          2. WHITE WATER! ROSE LAW FIRM! BLOOP! DERP! BENGHAZIIIII!!!!!!

    2. It’s really just that simple.

      Just as he would an open wound, a doctor should creatively and aggressively treat pain. Opioids are a gift from heaven and should be used without reservation to treat pain if there is no alternative. The average person suffering from chronic pain doesn’t get sufficient treatment, partly because effective pain management is subtle and exploring alternatives to opioids can be very expensive, and partly because of people like Jeff Sessions. Doctors are already conservative. The good ones, who stick their necks out to compassionately help people, are in the crosshairs.

  2. This is clearly a bad time for Doctor Who to regenerate into a girl.

  3. Chronic pain sufferers probably should have thought of that before suffering chronic pain.

    1. I’m channeling it into chronic rage these days. Enough gamma rays and I too can change into a giant green rage monster.

  4. Jeff Sessions Is Coming

    Phrasing!

    1. Re: the Alt-Text

      Actually, that’s his O-face.

  5. Sessions is one “banana peel” slip from being our Duterte.

  6. Just when I think there’s no way Jeff Sessions could make me think less of him he goes and pulls it off. But unfortunately for him I’m fresh out of blue ribbons, so he’ll have to accept my boot up his ass instead.

  7. how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription

    Regardless whether the opiods were involved or not.

    1. Just because he was run over by a bus doesn’t mean the opioids didn’t kill him…

    2. If a few thousand people have to die in extreme pain for no good reason, it’s still worth it.

    3. Exactly. That’s how the CDC pads its stats.

      There is a very good article entitled “Is the war on drugs as phony as the war on terror?” written by Prof. Jim Fetzer. A search will bring it up readily.

      1. There is a clear effort to move the drug war from marijuana to opiates and the government needs to scare Americans to do it.

        There was never an intention to fire the drug warrior’s gestapo agents but shift them to drugs besides marijuana. Even drug warriors realize going after marijuana is a lost cause since more than 50% of the states have legalized it in some manner.

        1. The problem was big pharma using gubmints to protect opium regies exploiting primitive people. Those dispensed with individual rights and invariably led to war. But simply refusing to enforce pharma contracts and let the competition bring them down looks like a better solution than the Opium wars of 1840, 1857, 1912-1919, 1939-1945, 1950-1952, and 1964-1974. Those get expensive quick.

        2. I wonder why more people don’t notice that the crackdown on prescription opiates, with its (predictable) attendant increase in heroin use, started at precisely the time when states started getting serious about legalizing pot.

      2. Thanks for the link.

  8. I just saw my neurologist today. He has been in practice for over 30 years.

    Why is Jeff Sessions more qualified to treat me?

    I’m kind of pissed off about this. I wish there was something i could do, but I feel pretty powerless.

    1. That’s because you refuse to entertain the notion of voting for Democrats who won’t pull this crap.

      1. Clinton? And Clinton? And Obama?

        1. It’s a new world. Why not pay attention?

        2. …and Al Franken? The 12-step ban-electricity communist? Franken is the example of looter infiltration and backstabbing treachery not seen since the time of the Long Knives. But that’s still preferable to the average member of God’s Own Prohibitionists. You haveta vote outside the looter altruist box or your ballot changes no laws. Franken’s senate race book is a valuable guide to republican tactics libertarian candidates would do well to peruse.

      2. Jesus christ you fucking moron.

      3. Fuck you faggot. Your chocolate marxist overlord and his minions were the ones closing the noose on doctors for the previous eight years. You fucking disingenuous piece of shit. This didn’t suddenly start in January. Although in what passes for your brain, you probably somehow believe that line of bullshit.

        You’re pure evil, because you support pure evil. If you had the slightest shred of integrity you would perform an act of contrition and go drink a bottle of Drano.

        1. So are you saying Republicans are better on this issue?

      4. Democrats could have loosened drug laws when THEY controlled the House, Senate and Obama was president. They didn’t.

        This is why the Democratic Party is dying and will be irrelevant in most political races. The Republican Party will be the big government morality police party. Libertarians will be the party for social freedoms and fiscal responsiblity.

      5. Obama had 7 years to do at least attempt to dismantle the drug war. The little he did affected only medical marijuana patients in those states where it was legal. When, in the last days of his reign, he unveiled his plan to treat drug addiction as a health issue, it included a million-dollar boon to states to increase the use of SWAT against suspected opiate users and their families. Because that’s how we treat sick people in this country. We hunt them down and kill them. Not excusing either Trump or Sessions, or the American people for falling for this shit, but Republicans as villains does not require Democrats as heroes.

    2. Try voting libertarian. It’s the law-changing equivalent of a 21-gun broadside, and makes looters scramble to repeal bad laws lest they lose that claw in the till, butt on the leather seat and Treasury check in the mailbox. A donation couldn’t hurt either.

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  10. None of those data points mean much, but the “death within 60 days” one is particularly stupid. The US attorneys are not doing M&M. They are insinuating that the mere fact of death within 60 days makes opiate painkillers the likely proximate cause of, or a significant comtributor to, death. That’s so stupid and ignorant that it’s not even wrong, and you don’t need to be a healthcare provider to understand why. They don’t even know how to ask the right questions.

    Sessions is turning out to be a real monster. How does such an ignorant man acquire power? Why is he being allowed to ride hobby horses that conflict with positions elucidated by Candidate Trump? Why isn’t Trump canning his ass?

    1. Why is he doing this?
      Jeff has to drink 4 glasses of pain tears a day or he’ll shrivel up and turn into ferret.

  11. Causing pain probably appeases Lolth. I’m really starting to believe this man is a drow

    1. Albino Drow?

      At any rate, that is the ugliest Drow ever. Of all time.

  12. Look, they’re just going to go after the top doctors in terms of those who prescribe the most opioids, once they’ve gotten the top tier whittled down to where all doctors are prescribing a below-average amount they’ll lay off the persecution. It’s not like if they scare off half the doctors from prescribing any opioids at all the remaining half of the doctors will magically start prescribing more just because their caseload has doubled.

    1. And you will find that the doctors who prescribe the most opioids will often (not always) be the ones who most successfully treat pain.

      1. The thoughts these people have do not allow them to see that chronic pain patients are found to become addicted at a lower level that addiction affects the entire population! And, they also are not being told that most of the deaths are from people using clandestinely manufactured diamorphine and Fentanyl. The dose of the latter is very touchy. They would easily overdose if they are abusing the drug. Reportedly, some of them want it! But, declaring war on doctors, who are trying to treat one of the hundred million people with chronic pain, is like declaring war on a third of the country! I am rooting for the patients!

  13. Aren’t there laws against knowingly and intentionally hurting others? Does it fall under war crimes or terrorism or criminal assault, or just wanton endangerment? Any way you look at it, pushing doctors to abandon chronic pain patients with no relief is knowingly and intentionally harming people who, even under the law, have done nothing wrong whatsoever. Suicide rates among pain patients are skyrocketing and tens of thousands, if not millions, of people are no longer able to live anything remotely resembling a normal life, now unable to work, to keep up their homes, take care of their families, or even themselves.

    The Hippocratic oath, which all doctors take, says first, do no harm. But by withholding relief that is exactly what they are doing, and they are doing it out of fear of government sanctions or even criminal accusations. They can’t afford to take the time and effort to fill out all the new paperwork justifying every prescription for pain medication they write, at least not if they want to be able to take care of other patients or even just stay in business.

    1. “…pushing doctors to abandon chronic pain patients with no relief…”

      This began years ago when pain practices were placed under the thumb of the DEA and NIDA, but it has gotten worse very recently. Here’s a personal experience to demonstrate:

      My chronically ill, disabled wife finished her last 37.5 mic Fentanyl patch last Friday. Her next script was given early to our local Walgreens, since procuring the med is impossible without their having it in hand early due to regulations. Medicaid suddenly refused payment for this particular dose, despite the patient using it for over a year. The only solution is to prescribe separately a 25 mic and 12.5 mic patch. Same dose in the end at double the cost, with a 5 day delay to someone in constant pain– ain’t government grand!?

      1. Sound like you and your wife had a nasty week. What justification did Medicare give? Did they consult the doctor or just make a judgement from afar, willy nilly?

        1. joejimtree1

          It was Medicaid….(;-P

  14. The federal government (USA, Inc, a private corporation which is not a legitimate government) has NO BUSINESS regulating or prohibiting what people put into their bodies and they sure as hell have no right to prosecute doctors for taking care of their own patients. This war on drug idiocy is only continued to justify the DEA and other alphabet mercenary agencies’ bloated budgets. Trump should ****can Sessions immediately.

    P.S. How did that Prohibition thing work out, huh???

    1. Dude, this is the Reason comment section. You can say “shitcan” without the asterisks.

      Here, I’ll show you: Shitcan. Shitcan. Shitcan. Shitcanshitcanshitcanshitcanshitcan

  15. It was easy to see that once Trump picked Sessions, it was going to be one of the worst things about his presidency.

    It’s bad enough that Sessions wants to dictate how grown adults live their lives. But now he wants to tell judges, doctors, etc how to do their jobs. Even worse, he is a motherlode of awful ideas that are ineffective, consistently at odds with reality, encroach on people’s lives, and cost lots of money.

    1. Trump is completely incompetent regarding every facet of government. He didn’t even know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.

    2. Right now there are lots of people sweltering in 8 x 9 cells because of Sessions and his ilk, whose criminal justice and sentencing policies contradict all social and physical science research since the 70s.

  16. On another subject- He’s going to have a hard time prosecuting cases against colleges because they didn’t admit a high enough proportion of white kids. Unless you disallow all non numeric admittance criteria there is always a way to take a disadvantaged background into account. More and more colleges use income instead of race as a factor in the equation.

    The Asian kids have a better case than the white kids anyway.

  17. which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers;
    Aka any pain management doctor,

    how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription;
    Aka cause of death won’t matter, except when they can specifically blame opioids because someone swallowed their whole months supply at once,

    the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions;
    Aka extra persecution for doctors who don’t discriminate against people under 60 who need pain relief,

    pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids
    Aka any pharmacy that actually stocks strong pain meds

    and regional hot spots for opioid issues
    Aka any region where a high enough % of doctors aren’t torturing their patients.

    This is disgusting, they’ve turned the medical system into a barbaric medieval nightmare that refuses to offer pain relief no matter how bad a person is suffering. Better 100 people scream in agony from no meds than 1 person scream in ecstasy from abusing their meds, according to both the right and left these days (some commenters have made the mistake of suggesting that this is a Sessions/Republican issue, when Democrats are 100% as bad with this shit).

    1. I agree with you say. This is obscene, and is creating the worst of all worlds
      It basically says don’t treat terminal patients, espically those over 60. Insane

    2. In the 1880s morphine was a popular way off this mortal coil, especially for terminal cases. But sanctimonious altruism removed that alternative, so cancer-stricken grandmas swallowed “Rough on Rats” and die in excruciating agony. I hope the Infallible Pole iv Rome was delighted about those forcible changes.

  18. In the end, stuff like this will hasten the push by people to loosen drug laws.

    Drug warriors are right, Marijuana is the gateway drug and since more and more states are legalizing it, states will then move on to legalizing other drugs.

    1. Relegalizing you mean? Beer was a felony and weed legal when my parents were born. I also recall when we called it legalizing freedom. The LP is the only party in the world that looks for alternatives to sending thugs and ruffians out with orders to kill people as examples to inspire terror and obedience.

  19. The campaign to discourage cigarette smoking has been as successful as it has been precisely because cigarettes were not banned. The combination of public shaming, high taxes, and public service campaigns has done far more that criminalization could have done, and without the terrible side effects of prohibition. With respect to criminalization’s role in reducing smoking, any “victories” over smugglers are but a miniscule part of the decline in smoking, if they have aided in that decline at all.

  20. These little pricks are numb and dumb to the excruciating pain of others, and their actions will greatly increase pain & suffering. It will increase suicides by pain patients that have lost hope, and increase number of ODs. That’s not a bug, its the only possible results.

    If there is a god, and Jeff Sessions get an excruciating form of bone cancer, I hope will doctors will ignore his “Drug Seeking Behavior” so he won’t die an addict. I can hear him now…

    “Doc, Please give me drugs, I can’t stand it. I just need a little….”

    1. So Ayn and Orwell were both right about totalitarian death-worshippers?

    2. If I could think of a way to induce severe intractable pain, I might be tempted to do so in many of these narrow minded dweebs! Having suffered with an incurable neuropathy for six years, I don’t know what it would be like without the minimal medication that I can get from my doctors. They are scared to death by this war against the doctors (and their patients!) who do not contribute to the statistics that they pump out! Ironically, I lost the fight with the medical board. I am one of the doctors affected by this ignorance twelve years ago! I followed good scientific practices, in pain management, only to be nullified by doctors with an inability to think! I wish there were statistics available that verify the increased suicides among chronic pain patients. Otherwise, I can only assume the reports are true.

  21. The bad thing is that over-the-counter alternatives to narcotics ( NSAIDS ) are pretty dangerous when taken chronically for pain, and much less safe than chronic opioid use.
    Will the task force be tracking NSAID use ? Will they publicize how many end up on dialysis because of that?

    1. Absolutely! Add to that, the people who die from uncontrollable, acute, gastrointestinal bleeding and increased risk of dying from a heart attack! The people, that I treated, had used OTC NSAIDS without relief. That is why they ended up in the doctor’s office! Tylenol is limited in dose. I took care of one man who was taking so much that he came in with impending liver failure. Then, his family doctor, wrote Tylenol #3 while in the hospital, for his pain! I had taken him off of any Tylenol!? Doctors can be ignorant, too. We do not know it all, like many doctors lead themselves to believe!

  22. Shades of Harry Beauregard Anslinger, Herb Hoover’s appointee to prosecute the “war waged by international criminals against” (get this!) “our” laws. That sure helped the economy as of 1930, didn’t it? If memory serves, there was a nasty depression when the looters began enforcing the Harrison Act.

  23. For a libertarian publication, Reason seems to have little enthusiasm for the right to self-medicate. Americans always had this right until the early 1900s. It is entirely consistent with self-ownership as a property right, which one would hope any libertarian would embrace.

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