Prescription Painkillers Cause Problems for Patients, Doctors and Prosecutors

ByABC News
May 11, 2005, 6:15 PM

May 11, 2005 — -- The world of chronic pain and its potentially addictive treatments is clashing increasingly with law enforcement, pitting patients and doctors against prosecutors and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. While trafficking is a real problem, some contend those in chronic pain are suffering the most.

Richard Paey went from being an Ivy League law school student to serving 25 years in a Florida prison after a long, strange and painful journey from surgical patient to state prisoner.

A car accident in 1985 led to long hospitalizations, surgeries and treatment, including metal screws in his spine that continue to cause debilitating pain.

Still, he married and raised three children in his native New Jersey. To fight what he describes as chronic pain, a local doctor prescribed Paey such narcotics as Percocet, Lortab and Tylenol 3. But when the family moved to Florida in 1994, Paey had trouble finding physicians to treat his pain.

"One doctor said I was screwed, and he was being nice about it," Paey said. "I think what turns doctors away, the doctors that I went to, the high dosage that I was on."

Paey, now 46, said he didn't always need a high dose of the medications, but the amount required to control his pain has increased over the years. He said he never became addicted and never used the pills recreationally. "Pain patients don't take the medication to get high," he said.

But authorities in Pasco County, Fla., contend otherwise. When he moved there, Paey did not know that the pharmacies where he filled prescriptions were under surveillance by local police and the DEA.

Florida prosecutor Scott Andringa built a case accusing Paey of forging prescriptions using the name of his former doctor in New Jersey. According to a search warrant, Paey had filled more than 200 prescriptions involving 18,000 pills in the space of about a year.

Paey maintains he never sold the drugs. "I think a true pain patient would never sell their medication," he said. "It's too hard to get."

In fact, the prosecutor concedes he had no evidence Paey used the drugs for anything other than his own pain.

"There was no proof that he had sold these substances," Andringa said. "There was an implication, there was a suspicion, there was a belief that he must have been selling these medications based on the number of pills. But there was no proof, and therefore we did not argue that at trial."