Pain Patients and Doctors Have Civil Rights Too

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In a recent column, I described the diversion of blame for the opioid crisis as an example of “Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another,” a psychiatric condition in which a person imposes an illness on someone who is not really sick.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a plea deal in which a former police chief in Florida pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of innocent people by making false arrests “under color of law.” I think there are some striking parallels between the way these innocent victims were treated and the way that chronic pain patients and their doctors are treated today.

For several years, Chief Raimundo Atesiano and officers in the Biscayne Park police department conspired to arrest innocent people, falsely accusing them of committing burglaries and robberies.  The arrests were based on phony evidence and confessions, all because Atesiano wanted to show he was tough on crime and solving cases.  Several officers plead guilty to the conspiracy and were prepared to testify against Artesiano when he entered his plea.

Let’s examine the logic of this case:

  1. “A” is an innocent person who has committed no crime.
  2. “B” is a criminal who has burglarized homes and cars.
  3. “C” is a person in authority who blames “A” for the crimes committed by “B.”

“C” has not been able to apprehend “B” and does not have any leads on how to catch him.  However, by diverting blame to “A”, “C” can claim that he has a much higher rate of solving crimes. “C” is rewarded for this illegal behavior because the citizens of Biscayne Park believe the police department is doing a much better job than it actually is.
Now change the focus to the scenario of Factitious Disease Imposed on Another to chronic pain patients and their doctors.

Just as the police in Biscayne Park were charged with using factitious evidence to arrest innocent people, regulators and law enforcement agencies like the CDC and DEA are using misleading information and overdose statistics to go after prescription opioids, when the real problem is those who misuse black market drugs.

Doctors who still treat chronic pain are also being targeted to end the legitimate medical distribution of opioid medication to patients. They are sanctioned with loss of license and some are even imprisoned for “overprescribing.”

Meanwhile, the real source of the public health problem – drug dealers, addicts and recreational users — are largely going unpunished. It is these non-medical users that account for the vast majority of overdoses.

It was a civil rights violation for Atesiano and his officers to falsely blame innocent people while ignoring the real criminals. In similar fashion, equal justice demands that it should be a violation of the civil rights of pain patients and doctors to be factitiously blamed for the crimes of illicit substance use and drug trafficking.

“The right to be free from false arrests is fundamental to our Constitution and system of justice,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said when announcing the plea deal with Atesiano.

“Law enforcement officers who abuse their authority and deny any individual this right will be held accountable. As the Chief of Police, Defendant Atesiano was trusted by his community to lead their police officers by example; he has failed his community and the officers of Biscayne Park.”

The same standard applied to Atesiano should be applied equally to those who falsely accuse pain patients and doctors whose constitutional rights are being violated today.