Pain management clinics perform a vital service for patients with chronic illnesses and acute injuries. Without pain medications, some patients would be unable to work or even handle everyday tasks. In some cases, untreated pain would be excruciating and unbearable.
However, not everybody who relies on the services of a pain clinic is a legitimate patient — drug-addicted individuals also frequent hospitals and doctors’ offices to score painkillers. Abuse of prescription medications has, in fact, become an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 100 people in the United States die each day from a drug overdose, mostly involving prescription pharmaceuticals rather than illicit drugs.
Pain clinics have, thus, been subject to tighter restrictions and closer scrutiny. Although protecting vulnerable individuals from substance abuse is an important goal, the legislation and law enforcement response has also affected legitimate doctors, their staff and their patients. Healers often find themselves the target of criminal investigations:
In the spring of 2007, the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicted three people in Southern Ohio who the agency alleges ran an illegal pain clinic — often referred to as a pill mill — at the center of the overdose deaths of 14 patients.
All three defendants received hefty jail terms for their roles in dispensing addictive medications, such as alprazolam, carisoprodol, diazepam, hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Alice Huffman was sentenced to five years, and her mother Denise Huffman was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Dr. Paul Volkman — who continues to proclaim his innocence — received four life sentences.
Besides the threat of lengthy incarceration, pain doctors and staff face career-changing repercussions. Ohio HB 93, for example, places cumbersome restrictions on pain clinics and allows the pharmacy board to suspend a facility’s license without a hearing. The bill also expands access by the Ohio Medical Board and Ohio Board of Nursing to criminal information gathered by law enforcement agencies.