60 minutes sells out medical marijuana

•September 23, 2007 • 20 Comments

This evening 60 minutes featured a ‘debate’ on California’s ‘pot shops’ showing how this wildly unregulated system leads to profits funneling into the black market and unknown masses of healthy Californians getting baked after corrupt doctors dispensed notes for them.

I tuned to the station a little bit early and got to catch all of the commercials immediately before and following the program. After studying media in various forms over the last few years, I understand the incalculable impact that advertisers have on a program’s content. It is logical that a business is not going to give their advertising dollars to programs that show antipathy towards the aforementioned business’ interests. Shows like 60 minutes are intelligent and make sure that this is not evident in the programming.

The segment on 60 minutes appeared to have a debate on the benefits and problems of the California system of medical marijuana dispensaries. This was completely disingenuous and heavily favored the critics talking about all of the problems caused by said dispensaries. Advocates talked about positives and why the dispensaries were necessary despite some problems but CBS discredited one by repeatedly showing him smoking marijuana (one clip, repeated 2 or 3 times before or after he talked). CBS gave far more time to critics and advocates alike repeating the need for regulation and not discussing how necessary marijuana availability is to many ill people.

People doctor shop and rob pharmacies for seriously addicting pills (marijuana of course is as addicting as chocolate, maybe less) and we don’t see soccer mom’s demanding that pharmacies close to schools be removed. Why is this? People need medication and the argument that SOME people abuse the system is not justification for robbing the rest of relief.

The same principle applies when it comes to medical marijuana, yet that is ignored because some people use it to get high. Why didn’t we hear a fair discussion of this topic? Let’s take a look at the advertisers:

  • Flomax
  • Plavix
  • Lowes
  • Aleve
  • Pacific Life
  • Zantac
  • Campbell’s Soup

I’m not going to go on a diatribe attacking Campbell’s or Lowe’s but are pharmaceutical and insurance companies going to give money to a show with reports on the wonders of a drug that patients can grow or easily obtain themselves? Of course not, if people knew that their arthritis could cheaply and more effectively be controlled by marijuana from the compassion club down the street, then they aren’t going to go buy Aleve at Walgreen’s or CVS.

Out of 7 commercials that immediately preceded or followed the ‘pot shop’ segment, 5 had interests in the story. Easily accessible medical marijuana is an affront to the monopoly of relief currently held by a handful of large corporations.

60 minutes sold out the issue of medical marijuana in California for millions of patients that need it to have relief and a relatively normal life.

Click here to see the trailer for the segment RIGHT AFTER A SHORT COMMERCIAL.

Blackwater Out of Iraq Now!

•September 22, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Below are a few articles making the case for kicking Blackwater USA out of Iraq for good. Blackwater is referred to as a Private Military Company but should be called what they are: a paramilitary force. Why is the US outsourcing basic military operations to corporations that are charging exorbitant amounts? There is no formal accountability for these contractors, their bottom line is profit not progress or democracy and they have no place in this conflict.

Checkbook Imperialism: The Blackwater Fiasco

by Robert Scheer

Why doesn’t the Iraqi government have the explicit legal power to expel or adjudicate the U.S.-contracted troops that are killing its citizens?

Blackwater: Hired Guns, Above the Law

by Jeremy Scahill

This is an edited transcript of the prepared testimony of Jeremy Scahill before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, September 21, 2007.

Iraqi Video Shows Blackwater Fired Unprovoked

Iraqi investigators claim to have a videotape that shows that Blackwater USA guards opened fire against Iraqi civilians without provocation in a shooting incident last week that left 11 people dead, including one police officer.

Newspapers in Iraq Push Government Ban on Blackwater Killers

The country is watching how the government responds to the mercenaries’ “spray and pray” killings.

What if our mercenaries turn on us?

by Chris Hedges

“We got 126,000 contractors over there, some of them making more than the secretary of defense,” said House defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D., Pa.). “How in the hell do you justify that?”

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Robert Greenwald has made many fantastic, thought-provoking documentaries on such topics as Fox News Channel, Wal-Mart, the PATRIOT ACT and military contractors in Iraq.

Iraq For Sale is a brilliant documentary exposing the vast amounts of money spent to have corporations do what the military can for cheaper. This is a quintessential piece in understanding the situation in Iraq and the privatization of military intervention.

Watch Iraq For Sale online now

Richard Paey Goes Home (War on Drugs)

•September 22, 2007 • Leave a Comment

From the Drug Policy Alliance:

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Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, and the state Cabinet voted to grant a full pardon to Richard Paey after three years in prison.

He is a chronic pain sufferer–from a car accident back in 1985 and more recently from multiple sclerosis–and takes a lot of medication to manage his pain. He was convicted in 2004 of drug trafficking and possession, despite a lack of evidence that he ever tried to sell his medication to anyone.

It sounds like Gov. Crist found the question of whether Paey really deserved a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence to be a no-brainer.

Now Paey is back at home with his wife and three kids. There’s a nice piece in the St. Petersburg Times about the homecoming.

I wonder if this happy ending (as happy as it can be when you lose years of your life to the criminal justice system) will focus fresh attention on the problems with the government’s war on pain patients, not to mention mandatory minimums.

Posted by Megan Farrington.

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Although in the War on [prescription] Drugs it is usually the innocent doctor that is harassed, investigated and jailed; in this case it was the patient. I have been following this case for a quite some time and the implications of the case always terrified me. Currently doctors are already afraid of fully treating pain. I’m very worried that some day my pain will get worse and I won’t be able to find a doctor around to treat it (like in Paey’s case). What will I do then? Will I get locked up for having to do what I need to for relief?

I’m ecstatic that Paey gets to leave prison and return to his family and it gives me a small amount of hope for the future of pain management and the failed war on drugs. I wish that more people understood that if you take vicodin, morphine, oxycontin or marijuana for pain that doesn’t mean you are a drug addict or you will become one. People doctor shop and abuse medications and these are RARELY the people in pain who need these medications and these groups should be separated, seen separately and treated separately. One group abuses drugs so the other should be denied relief or IMPRISONED for finding relief that local doctors wouldn’t provide? DEA agents and other law enforcement officials have to keep arresting people or lose funding to fight this ridiculous and failing drug war.

Again, From the Drug Policy Alliance:

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Pain Medication

Access to appropriate medical treatment, as decided by a health care provider and the patient, has been significantly hampered by the war on drugs and the dissemination of misinformation about drug tolerance, dependence, addiction and abuse. Tens of thousands of persons who suffer severe or chronic pain – and their physicians – have been particularly hard-hit. Opioid analgesics (medication which reduces or relieves pain) are some of the most effective treatments for pain. But because these medications are classified having as high risk for abuse and are closely controlled by federal and state authorities, physicians, pharmacists and pain patients have been closely scrutinized by state and federal law enforcement officials with respect to the frequency and dosage of these medications.

As a result, many physicians feel inhibited from prescribing (and pharmacists from dispensing) appropriate and effective doses of opioid analgesics to patients in pain for fear of investigation, sanctioning or even prosecution by over-zealous (and misinformed) narcotics officers. The treatable pain of patients, in turn, continues unabated.

Two interventions for pain have been in the news recently. OxyContin is a powerful time-released opiate that provides relief from debilitating pain. Yet, because of stories of abuse where people crush tablets for a heroin-like high, lawmakers are looking at a variety of regulatory schemes that would make it more difficult and risky for doctors to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense this important and proven pain medication. If such regulations are enacted, it is likely that even more people will needlessly endure severe or chronic pain.

Medical marijuana is another medicine scientifically proven to alleviate certain chronic pain and related conditions. Yet medical marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that under federal law, it cannot be prescribed by physicians for any purpose. Standing in opposition to the federal law, eleven states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, including the treatment of severe pain.

The Drug Policy Alliance supports the ability of the medical community to prescribe appropriate analgesics to patients without the fear of investigation, administrative sanctioning, or criminal prosecution by state and federal law enforcement officials. To this end, the Alliance represented professional organizations of pain specialist doctors in McFadden v. Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure, which challenged the revocation of a doctor’s state license for the prescribing of opioid analgesics.

The Office of Legal Affairs submitted a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of the American Pain Foundation, National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain and the Ohio Pain Initiative in the case Howland vs. Purdue Pharma, which was filed in the 12th Appellate district in Ohio in 2003. In this case, a group of patients are suing Purdue Pharma for allegedly misrepresenting the effects of the drug Oxy-Contin. In their brief, the American Pain Foundation et al argue that the regulation and control of pain medications like Oxy-Contin could serve to exacerbate the problem of the undertreatment of pain in Ohio.

Chronic Pain and Depression

•September 14, 2007 • 9 Comments

I struggle daily with chronic pain that limits just about every aspect of my life. The chronic pain makes me feel like I’ve lost control over my life and that leaves me feeling worthless and depressed.

Last spring I went through a particularly tough period of depression. During that time I was thinking about suicide on a regular basis, maybe everyday. I never thought I was going to act on that but I saw suicide as the only means to control the situation and alleviate my seemingly endless suffering.

Thoughts plagued me about hurting the handful of people that cared about me if I did act and that was the largest barrier in my eyes to my relief. I became angry at my loved ones for this and all these thoughts nearly consumed me.

A combination of the severe pain and depression ultimately led me to leave school and the dorm I was living in and move back home. This did NOT help the situation! I felt like I had even less control over my life, my pain wasn’t better and now I was a failure for not being able to complete my semester at school.

A couple months prior to returning home my doctor had prescribed me long acting morphine sulfate for the pain (this was the medication MS Contin). This helped a great deal with the pain but the side effect profile of constant nausea, somnolence and malaise lead me to discontinue my use within 2-3 months of starting it. Once again I was left in a great deal of pain concomitantly with that suicidal depression. My doctor’s solution to this was giving me an antidepressant drug, celexa. Celexa is a Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitor or SSRI like Zoloft or Prozac.

The new medication did very little for me psychologically at the time (something I would later learn the reason for) but I continued to take it with hopes that it was somehow helping.

When I came back home I started to work a non-strenuous job and I started to see my friends more. Both exacerbated my pain considerably and physically and mentally my situation snowballed. I was starting to even lose it during doctors appointments and my problems that I used to solely internalize were becoming evident to those around me.

My primary care physician at the time was a thoughtful and caring doctor with extremely limited experience dealing with chronic pain and its associated problems. Unlike my other doctors that greatly discouraged use of narcotic pain medicine (or more contemporarily called opioids) this doctor understood what was necessary for me to regain a better quality of life.

My PCP decided to try oxycontin after the ms contin had failed to control my pain without intolerable side effects. Within a day or two, once I caught up on some sleep and let the pain that was building subside some, I started to feel so much relief. I could walk more, I was more alert, I was less depressed and I most importantly, I had hope.

I started to work more and more and socialize more. After feeling like a worthless failure for leaving school, I started to regain a sense of purpose and worth. I could function now at a level that people couldn’t see all the pain I endured or the medications I took for it.

As a little time went on, I started to feel human again. I had a pretty normal and satisfying social life and through work my life regained a little bit of meaning. My doctors were so hesitant to prescribe me strong enough pain medications but the side effects and risks of the medications paled in comparison to the despair I struggled with coping independently with the severe pain and depression.

“Empty Walls” a terrifying look at what the young are inheriting

•September 13, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Although I don’t generally enjoy the fast, frightening music of Serj Tankian or his band System of a Down, their political consciousness has always made me feel like I had a well-known ally in that music scene. This new video by Serj entitled “Empty Walls” takes a creepy journey into a classroom allegory of recent US history starting with the collapse of a building block trade center.

Serj Tankian – Empty Walls

Rachel Maddow on Fred Thompson

•September 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Tonight on Countdown with Keith Olbermann it was brought to my attention that Fred Thompson is already neck and neck with the republican frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani. In my short lifetime I have not seen a more disgraceful “politician”. He comes off as lazy, cocky and chauvinistic in my limited exposure to him and I could hardly be further from him on the political spectrum. Anyway, I was rather surprised that he has garnered so much political support so quickly. Last week I saw an hysterical piece by Air America’s Rachel Maddow on the Thompson campaign. Enjoy!

Dispatches from the War on the Drugs

•September 12, 2007 • 3 Comments

 

 

Aug 31, 2007
By: John Tierney
The New York Times

When federal agents raided the Pittsburgh-area office of Dr. Bernard L. Rottschaefer, the resulting allegations came as a shock to the 63-year-old man’s friends and family: Rottschaefer, the office of U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan alleged, had been writing prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication and opiate painkillers like OxyContin in exchange for sex.

Rottschaefer’s arrest came at the height of a nationwide moral panic over prescription painkiller abuse. His 2004 trial came just after the Orlando Sentinel newspaper had published a landmark series on abuse of the painkiller OxyContin, a series that inspired Congressional hearings and legislation across the country-and a series the newspaper later had to retract in its entirety, and for which the paper eventually fired an editor and reporter.

Buchanan (who now heads up a domestic violence program within the Department of Justice) was politically savvy, ambitious, and had taken on a number of high-profile cases that made her a rising star in the Bush administration, including spending $12 million to nab 55 people on low-level charges of selling glass-blown bongs over the Internet (including pot celebrity Tommy Chong).

Buchanan also brought the first federal obscenity case in 15 years.

As the Drug Enforcement Administration initiated a high-profile anti-opiate campaign in the early 2000s, it began raiding the offices of pain doctors all over the country. DEA officials and prosecutors held press conferences boasting of the doctors they’d nabbed. Many of these prosecutions were dubious. The government was mistaking a promising new form of pain treatment, sometimes called high-dose opiate therapy, for what it called white-collar drug dealing.

What’s more, the government insisted (and still insists) it needed to show no motive and no criminal intent to convict these doctors of drug dealing. It only needs to show that a given doctor’s prescriptions are outside the course of normal medical practice-a standard to be determined by government drug cops, not medical boards. Given her history of embracing high-profile, high-publicity cases, it’s of little surprise that Buchanan would find a doctor in her own district to help her tap the ongoing painkiller hysteria.

Rottschaefer was eventually convicted on 153 of 208 counts of illegally prescribing prescription painkillers. Five women testified that Rottschaefer wrote them prescriptions for which prosecutors say there was “no legitimate medical purpose.”

Buchanan also played up the salacious sex allegations in public, and her subordinates played them up in the courtroom. From a perception standpoint, the sex allegations were important, because Dr. Rottschaefer clearly wasn’t prescribing these pills to get rich-he was getting approximately $6 per month for three of the patients, and approximately $22 per month for the others. All were on government assistance.

Government witness Dr. Douglas Clough confidently told jurors that there was nothing in the five women’s medical histories that would have called for the drugs Dr. Rottschaefer prescribed. Rottschaefer was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison, later reduced to five.

Even before the jury returned its verdict, there were problems with the government’s case. Start with Dr. Clough, who despite government assertions to the contrary is no expert on pain treatment. When questioned on the witness stand, Clough was unaware of some basic legal guidelines any doctor who regularly prescribes pain medication should have known.

For example, he was ignorant of the fact that at the time, it was illegal for a doctor to post-date a prescription for opioid painkillers. Clough also didn’t review all of the five witnesses’ histories, only those portions of them provided by the government. He didn’t speak to or examine any of the women. For this, the government then paid him approximately $11,000.

Four of the five women who testified against Dr. Rottschaefer alleged a sex-for-drugs arrangement. But all four initially denied any sex took place. They changed their stories after conversations with federal prosecutors. It so happens that all four were also facing their own criminal charges at the time, and it’s now clear that all four received reductions in their own charges or sentences in exchange for their testimony.

Not only was the jury not told about these arrangements, it was explicitly told precisely the opposite-that there were no testimony-for-leniency deals.

In 2005, as Dr. Rottschaefer was appealing his conviction, the government’s case took yet another blow. The ex-boyfriend of Jennifer Riggle, the government’s star witness, gave Rottschaefer’s lawyers 183 letters Riggle sent to him while he was in prison. In them, Riggle admits over and over again that she fabricated the sex-for-drugs stories about Dr. Rottschaefer and lied about them in court.

“I think they want to subpened (sic) me to a grand jury about the doctor I was seeing,” Riggle wrote in one letter. “They’re saying he was bribing patients with sex for pills, but that never happened to me. DEA said they will cut me a deal for good testimony.”

Federal prosecutors have never charged Riggle with perjury.

Remarkably, Riggle’s letters weren’t enough to win Dr. Rottschaefer a new trial. Buchanan’s office argued that Riggle’s letters were irrelevant, because Buchanan’s public grandstanding on the sex allegations notwithstanding, the case was never about sex, but about Rottschaefer prescribing drugs for no legitimate medical purpose. In 2006, a federal appeals court agreed, and denied Rottschafer a new trial.

Now there’s new evidence undercutting the “legitimate medical purpose” argument, too. All five women who testified against Rottschaefer have sued him in civil court for medical malpractice. So far, none of those suits have been successful-three of eight remain unresolved.

The lawsuits did, however, allow Rottschaefer’s lawyers to look at the women’s entire medical histories, not just the portions prosecutors provided at trial. What they found ought to be enough to set Rottschaefer free.

It’s now clear that all five women perjured themselves in Rottschaefer’s criminal trial-both about the bargains they’d struck with federal prosecutors, and about their own medical histories. One failed to inform the jury that she’d been diagnosed with several psychological disorders, allowing the jury to conclude that a breakdown she’d suffered in 2002 was due to the drugs Dr. Rottschaefer had prescribed her, not her underlying medical conditions.

The other four had been or were later treated with medications similar to those Dr. Rottschaefer prescribed, and for the same conditions he had diagnosed. Meaning that not only were Dr. Rottschaefer’s actions not outside the scope of accepted medical practice, they were actually duplicated by other doctors.

It’s unclear if Buchanan and her subordinates are guilty of basic incompetence here, or something more sinister. That they could look at what’s come out since Dr. Rottschaefer’s conviction and still feel he belongs in prison is telling, as is the fact that they’ve yet to charge their star witness with perjury, despite overwhelming evidence that she committed it.

When their “sex for drugs” allegations have been deflated, they fall back on the “no legitimate medical purpose” arguments. Now that those charges have been refuted too, their latest brief goes back to the sex.

If federal prosecutors did know about any of this new evidence at the time of the trial, they’re guilty of prosecutorial misconduct. If they didn’t, they’re guilty of being duped by these five women. Of course, that’s essentially the same thing for which they’ve convicted Dr. Rottschaefer.

“Dr. Rottschaefer got five years in a minimum security prison,” says Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network, an advocacy group for pain patients. “But he’s still trying to get a new trial, even though if he’s convicted, that sentence will be thrown out, and he could get 25 years or more. That seems like a risk someone would only take if he’s innocent, doesn’t it?”

That isn’t a legal argument, of course. But outside the courtroom, it’s a pretty persuasive one.

http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007
/08/31/dispatches-from-the-war-on-the-drugs/