Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a physician and long-time drug fighter, is turning drug war into class war in his crusade against Oxycontin, the powerful opiate pain-killer that has become one of this year's drug menaces of choice. In July, Dean banned the use of state welfare funds to pay for Oxycontin prescriptions. But that wasn't enough. Earlier this month, Dean moved to restrict the supply of the drug to all Vermont residents enrolled in state-funded health care programs.

The move on welfare spending would affect only about 70 people, according to local press reports, but the governor's latest strike will affect 128,000 Vermonters. Doctors for patients in state-funded programs will now have to seek permission from the Office of Vermont Health Access before they can fill prescriptions for the popular painkiller, the Burlington Free Press reported.

The governor's actions have set off controversy in Montpelier, the state capital, according to the Free Press. Legislators are demanding a hearing next month on the decisions.

"It seems to me there was an assumption that all users of this drug were abusers," said Sen. James Leddy (D-Chittenden). "My question is what was the process used to reach this decision."

"I'm as angry about this as anything I have run into," said Sen. Nancy Chard (D-Windham). Chard, who heads

Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a physician and long-time drug fighter, is turning drug war into class war in his crusade against Oxycontin, the powerful opiate pain-killer that has become one of this year's drug menaces of choice. In July, Dean banned the use of state welfare funds to pay for Oxycontin prescriptions. But that wasn't enough. Earlier this month, Dean moved to restrict the supply of the drug to all Vermont residents enrolled in state-funded health care programs.

The move on welfare spending would affect only about 70 people, according to local press reports, but the governor's latest strike will affect 128,000 Vermonters. Doctors for patients in state-funded programs will now have to seek permission from the Office of Vermont Health Access before they can fill prescriptions for the popular painkiller, the Burlington Free Press reported.

The governor's actions have set off controversy in Montpelier, the state capital, according to the Free Press. Legislators are demanding a hearing next month on the decisions.

"It seems to me there was an assumption that all users of this drug were abusers," said Sen. James Leddy (D-Chittenden). "My question is what was the process used to reach this decision."

"I'm as angry about this as anything I have run into," said Sen. Nancy Chard (D-Windham). Chard, who heads the legislature's Health Access Oversight Committee, wanted to know whether any doctors -- other than the governor himself -- had been consulted.

Committee members also asked why Oxycontin was singled out when other prescription drugs are also subject to abuse. The committee voted to find out by calling state officials to testify at its next scheduled hearing in September. "I think we have a right to get some information," Chard said.

The Free Press' editorial page writers, however, apparently haven't been reading their own newspaper. They came out strongly in support of the governor's actions in an editorial calling for even more. They applauded Dean's move, "but the steps he took are only the beginning of what's needed," opined the Free Press. "Dean's was a drastic step, but one fully justified by the drug's dangers." Before urging state lawmakers to pass a prescription monitoring law, the newspaper added that, "OxyContin abuse occurs in Vermont, but hasn't reached epidemic levels. All the more reason to take preventive steps such as prior approval of prescriptions. That review won't suffice, though. Government, doctors and pharmacists should be discussing further actions, including physician and patient education."

But the newspaper and the governor go way too far even for Dr. Sally Satel, most reknowned for her advocacy of coerced treatment of drug users. In her syndicated column, Satel wrote: "The worst response we could make to the OxyContin phenomenon would be to restrict the supply, a classic toss of the baby out with the bathwater. Something must be done to keep OxyContin out of the wrong hands, but the true public health tragedy will be depriving patients who need it to survive in relative comfort day to day."

Satel should not be surprised by Dean's draconian approach to drug policy. The good doctor appears to consistently favor the intervention of police, bureaucrats and judges in medical affairs where abusable drugs are involved. In a case involving a heroin addict who was prescribed methadone, then later jailed on a parole violation, the state corrections department has gone to court to prevent him from receiving methadone while behind bars. The man in question, Shawn Gibson, had to undergo methadone withdrawal in prison after the state refused to treat him while in custody. Earlier, when a state judge ordered the corrections department to provide methadone to another prisoner, it refused and instead released the prisoner early.

Accord to the Rutland Herald, Dean, whom it describes as a moralist who "may be of the view that cold turkey withdrawal is more virtuous than methadone," is behind the state's rigid line. But Dean's moralism is not enough for the Herald, which accuses him of using state law "to interfere in an arbitrary and potentially harmful way in medical decisions."

-- END --
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Issue #199, 8/17/01 Editorial: Let Justice Be Done | US Global Lead in Imprisonment Still Safe: State Prison Populations Begin to Decline but Feds Make Up Difference | Prison Industry Confab Gets Heated Reception in Philadelphia | Mandatory Minimums Under Threat, Supreme Court Showdown Looming After 9th Circuit Rules Against Certain Drug Sentencing Laws | Oregon Bar Ethics Brouhaha Continues: Feds Still Refusing to Authorize Undercover Operations, State Narcs Could Be Out There | Department of Education Cites Pressure to Modify Restrictions on Financial Aid | Australia: Top Cops Propose "Heroin Bank," Political Firestorm Ensues as Prime Minister Nixes Idea | Chess Players Become Drug Tested Pawns in Game's Bid for Olympic Status, Players Not Amused | Vermont Governor Leads Way in Restricting Oxycontin for the Poor | Weitzel Prosecution Condemned by Leading Pain Specialist | Marijuana Extracts for Pain Study to Begin in Canada | DRCNet Book Review: Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge Our Misguided Drug Rehab System | T-shirts for Victory! Special Offer and Appeal from DRCNet This Month | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | The Reformer's Calendar
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