Pubdate: Mon, 24 Oct 2005
Source: National Review Online (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 National Review
Author: Radley Balko
Note: Radley Balko is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


A Florida Paraplegic Needs Relief.

Today, Richard Paey sits in a wheelchair behind high walls and razor wire
in a high-security prison near Daytona Beach. Paey is a 46-year-old father
of three, and a paraplegic. His condition is the result of a car accident,
a botched back surgery, and a case of multiple sclerosis -- three setbacks
that have left him in a chronic, debilitating state of pain. After moving
to Florida from New Jersey, Paey found it increasingly difficult to get
prescriptions for the pain medication he needed to function normally -- to
support his family, and to be a parent to his children.

Paey's difficulties finding treatment were in large part due to federal-
and state-government efforts to prevent the illegal use -- or "diversion,"
as the feds call it -- of prescription pain medicine. Doctors today face
fines ,suspension, the loss of license or practice, the seizure of
property, or even prison time in the event that drug cops (most of whom
have no medical training) decide they are prescribing too many painkillers.
As a result, physicians are understandably apprehensive about aggressively
treating pain.

Like many pain patients, Paey found himself on the blunt end of such
policies. He went from doctor to doctor, looking for someone to give him
the medication he needed. By the time he eventually turned to his old New
Jersey doctor for help, he had already attracted the attention of Florida
drug-control authorities. What happened next is disputed, but it ended with
Paey getting arrested, getting his home raided, and eventually getting
convicted of drug distribution.

Paey insists his old doctor wrote him the prescriptions he needed. The
Florida pharmacists who testified at his trial back him up. But the doctor
says he forged the prescriptions. For his part, Paey holds no animus
against his former doctor. Cops gave the doctor a devil's bargain -- give
Paey up, or face 25-years-to-life imprisonment for the excessive
proscribing of painkillers. Paey still maintains the prescriptions were
legitimate, but understands why his doctor turned against him.

The larger issue, of course, is why a man who is clearly not an addict (he
wasn't taking the medication to get high) and had a legitimate use for the
medication wasn't given access to what he needed in the first place.

State prosecutors concede there's no evidence Paey ever sold or gave his
medication away. Nevertheless, under draconian drug-war statutes, these
prosecutors could pursue distribution charges against him based solely on
the amount of medication he possessed (the unauthorized possession of as
few as 60 tablets of some pain medications can qualify a person as a "drug

After three trials, Richard Paey was convicted and put in prison for 25
years, effectively a life sentence for someone in his condition.
Ironically, the state of Florida now pays for a morphine pump connected to
Paey's spine which delivers the same class of medication at the same doses
the state of Florida told him wasn't necessary, and put him in prison for
trying to obtain.

Prosecutors originally offered Paey a plea bargain that would have helped
him avoid jail time, but Paey refused, insisting that (a) he did nothing
wrong, and (b) even if he had, it shouldn't be a crime to seek relief from
chronic pain. Paey feared that a plea would make other doctors in the state
more reluctant to treat pain than they already were.

Publicly, Paey's prosecutors have conceded that the 25-year sentence was
excessive, yet they insist that Paey himself is to blame, citing his
refusal to accept a plea agreement. The chilling implication: Paey is
serving prison time for drug distribution not because he's guilty of
actually distributing drugs -- the state admits as much -- but because he
insisted on exercising his constitutionally-protected right to a jury trial.

Earlier this year, New York Times columnist John Tierney flew to Florida to
interview Paey for a story that ran on July 19. Tierney's column was
sympathetic to Paey's plight, and sharply critical of the state of Florida.

There is now strong evidence that the state of Florida and prison officials
retaliated against Paey for speaking with Tierney. Two weeks after the
interview, Paey was moved to a prison facility more than two hours from his
wife and family. He was then moved even farther away, some 170 miles, to
the Tomoka Correctional Institution near Daytona Beach. Sympathetic prison
officials, other inmates, and medical staff have since told Paey he was
moved away from his family because the guard who sat in on his interview
with Tierney had complained to prison authorities about what Paey had
revealed to the journalist.

At about the same time, prison medical staff told Paey that the state of
Florida had refused to give permission for them to refill his morphine
pump. For Paey, this information was the equivalent of a death sentence.
The state of Florida left him to agonize for weeks before finally
authorizing the refill, the day before his pump was scheduled to run dry.
Here again, Paey has since been given strong reason to believe that the
threat to withhold his medication was in retaliation for relaying his story
to the New York Times.

Two activist groups representing pain patients -- the Pain Relief Network
and the November Coalition -- have begun a campaign urging Governor Jeb
Bush to grant Richard Paey a pardon. Governor Bush should hear them out.
Richard Paey is not a criminal. He isn't a threat to anyone. He's a tragic
figure who has become a political prisoner of America's allegiance to
zero-tolerance drug prohibition.

The Paey case has already cast a good deal of shame on the state of
Florida. Just how much more shame his story brings to the state depends on
whether political leaders move to rectify his plight, or rather choose
simply to ignore him, and continue to intimidate him into spending the rest
of his 25-year prison term in silence.

Governor Bush should free Richard Paey. And Florida lawmakers should pass
reforms to ensure that drug-war fanaticism no longer prevents sick people
from getting the medication they need.

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