Newsbrief: California Pharmacist to Go on Trial for Filling Oxycontin Prescriptions 6/25/04

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The Bush administration's war against prescription drug abuse and the diversion of such drugs to the black market has expanded to include pharmacists. Ventura, California, pharmacist Richard Ozar is slated to go on trial soon in federal court over charges he filled prescriptions for the opioid pain reliever Oxycontin that were not destined for appropriate medical care. In November, a federal grand jury indicted Ozar on 33 counts of conspiring with local pain physician Dr. Michael Huff to unlawfully distribute Oxycontin.

According to the patients' and physicians' advocacy group the Pain Relief Network (http://www.PainReliefNetwork.org), about a hundred physicians have been charged or prosecuted with drug distribution offenses because of their opioid prescribing practices. While prescribing high doses of opioid pain relievers may be in line with accepted medical practice for dealing with pain, federal and state prosecutors are quick to view such doctors as "pill mills" or "Dr. Feelgoods."

But up until now, federal prosecutors have not extended their attention to pharmacists. (Redding, California, pharmacy owners Steven and Madeline Miller were indicted along with Dr. Frank Fisher in a failed prosecution there, but those were state charges.) And Ozar is vowing to fight.

All Ozar did was fill legal prescriptions, said his attorney, Victor Sherman in remarks made to the California legal newspaper the Daily Journal. "This is a man who's never had a traffic ticket," Sherman said. "He thinks he's doing the community a service, then he turns around, and they indict him. It's devastating. It's an example of Big Brother coming in after the fact, seeing the new hot drug and trying to teach the medical profession a lesson."

But federal prosecutors are alleging that Ozar "must have known" some of the pills he dispensed were destined for the streets. According to the indictment issued in November, among the reasons why Ozar should have known the pills were illegally prescribed are that some patients appeared healthy, some patients were prescribed very large quantities, and some patients paid in cash.

Pharmacists are not free to just fill any prescription sent them, said US Assistant Attorney Steven Young, who will prosecute the case. "There is a corresponding duty to evaluate the prescription," Young said. "Under the circumstances and facts of this case, a grand jury concluded that he knew or should have known that those prescriptions were not valid."

But, retorted defense attorney Sherman, neither the DEA nor the state Medical Board have placed upper limits on the amount of painkillers a doctor may prescribe, so long as there is a legitimate need for pain treatment. And even if Dr. Huff exceeded the bounds of medical standards in his prescribing, the pharmacist who fills what appear to be valid prescriptions should not be targeted, Sherman said.

"We're not saying Ozar didn't make any independent judgments, because he did," Sherman explained. "These kinds of medications are legitimate ways to fight pain, and he believes that pain medications can be given in these quantities. Maybe other pharmacists would have made different judgments. But that doesn't make our guy a criminal. Certainly, there's no criminal intent."

As for prosecutors' suggestions that the level of prescribing and dispensing pain relievers proves the pair were up to no good, Sherman had a tart response. "So the government's medical opinion will be that he shouldn't have written the prescriptions. But who are they? Are they the doctors now?"

Gee, maybe next time you have severe chronic pain you should call up your local federal prosecutor and ask him to write the 'scrip.

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Issue #343, 6/25/04 Editorial: Ruling Creates More Questions Than Answers | Like a Rock: New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws Survive Another Legislative Session | When Remaining Silent Is a Crime: US Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Arrest Those Who Refuse to Identify Themselves | Initiatives on the Move: Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Oakland, Montana Added to Upcoming Marijuana Reform Votes This November | DRCNet Interview: Jude Renaud, Executive Director, Educators for Sensible Drug Policy | Newsbrief: Is Cecil Knox the Godfather? Feds Indict Southwest Virginia Pain Specialist Cecil Knox for Third Time, Aim to Win Racketeering Conviction | Newsbrief: Florida Pain Doctor Found Guilty of Illegal Prescribing | Newsbrief: California Pharmacist to Go on Trial for Filling Oxycontin Prescriptions | Newsbrief: Two Rulings Could Affect Federal Sentencing | Newsbrief: American Bar Association Report Calls for "Smart on Crime" Approach, End to Mandatory Minimum Sentences | Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Upholds Religious Peyote Use by Non-Indians | Newsbrief: Marijuana Candy Bars Appear in Bay Area | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | New Jersey Needle Exchange Update | This Week in History | Students for Sensible Drug Policy Chapter Grants | The Reformer's Calendar
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