DOJ raids could be making opioid crisis worse

15 May 2018 | SOURCE: FierceHealthcare

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The Trump administration says it’s supportive of medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction. However, overly aggressive tactics by Trump’s own Department of Justice are likely deterring such treatments and making the crisis worse, one expert tells FierceHealthcare.

Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration searched nine recovery centers in Tennessee and Virginia on a warrant, during which medical records, computers, and anything related to the distribution of drugs were either searched or seized, according to local reports.

Despite all the noise, no arrests were made. However, the clinics were forced to close for the day, leading those seeking treatment to be turned away, and possibly back to the streets. The clinics’ president, Dr. Tom Reach, was not available to speak to FierceHealthcare on the issue, nor was the DEA.

During a time when over 110 people die a day from opioid overdoses, activists, physicians, and the administration have been calling for not just deterrents to addiction but also proper treatment.

“Medication-assisted therapy is recommended in the [president’s] commission report and has been accepted by the President,” White House counselor and overseer of the administration’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, Kellyanne Conway, said earlier this month. “We hear from health professionals [that] it is an effective mode of treatment.”

On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he supports funding for centers that offer medication-assisted therapies because “we know that [it] works.”

At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for broader crackdowns as federal investigators fight the opioid epidemic, raiding clinics in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina in recent months and increasing their focus on the role of corrupt providers at treatment facilities. Last month, federal officials announced five Pittsburgh-area doctors in were charged for giving opioids to addicted patients for cash at treatment clinics.

Critics say such aggressive moves by the Justice Department deter physicians from wanting to provide such medication-assisted treatment, which could make the problem worse.

“Doctors are afraid to treat patients because they worry about losing their license if they need to provide certain doses, as well as the scrutiny about using opioids to treat opioid addiction,” Lynn Webster, former president at the American Academy of Pain Medicine, told FierceHealthcare. “There has been a huge increase in investigations, and there are many unintended consequences of those.”

Webster said government agencies like the DEA, as well as insurers, often aren’t helping the situation for legitimate treatment centers.

“The political pressures to combat this crisis are so great that they’re acting without thinking,” Webster said. “The DEA doesn’t understand what the real problem is. They’re trying to show politicians they’re doing everything they can with these raids, even though some actions are making the situation worse.”

  1. I have been a Pennsylvania Family Practice Physician for 18 years and became involved in the treatment of the opioid dependency crisis in May of 2013. I received my Data Waiver 2000 training at this time with the 30, then the subsequent 100 patients per month limit and then in May of 2015 I became a full time physician at a state approved MAT treatment clinic. In August of 2016, I became eligible for treating 275 patients per month, and continued down this rewarding path of medicine that so few physicians venture into. However, this all came to a abrupt and untimely halt on June 6th, 2018 whenever I was lead into a public meeting until false pretenses by a DEA agent and a representative from the Office of the Attorney General after I was lead to believe that I was meeting up with them to discuss a nurse manager whom was caught changing the doctor’s orders at my former employee’s office. Instead of answering a few questions that they had said “shouldn’t last any longer than 15 minutes”, I instead walked out of that meeting having voluntarily surrendered my DEA license over without having the right to an administrative hearing or even having the right to have an attorney present during questioning. During the course of this meeting and after finding out that no laws were broken, and it just “looks better” if you voluntarily sign over your DEA license… it shows that you are acting in good faith. Now to I find out that my own medical malpractice insurance which guarantees coverage in these specific instances such as my case, is now refusing to cover any legal defense costs and representation for just such an occurrence. When it rains, it sure does pour! I am open for suggestions, stories of similar situations or circumstances and most importantly, resolution of my current situation which has not only left me unemployed but on the brink of bankruptcy. There are several aspects of this story that I left out for simplicity, but involves several other violations of my former employer, current employer, HIPAA rights violation, wrongful termination, civil rights violations, misclassification case, discrimination, retaliation tactics, and big corporation intimidation. Not to mention the insurance company negligence. Please feel free to contact me. I am in the process of moving forward with a case that could set the presidency, instead of doctors, hospitals, corporations were at the causative end of multi-million dollar lawsuit settlements.

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