Burch: The DEA's war on patients

Friday, April 20, 2012 at 3:37pm
By Michael R. Burch

I am married to a wanted criminal and the Drug Enforcement Administration is hot on her trail!

Her crime? She suffers with chronic, debilitating pain and has to take powerful painkillers just to make it through the day.

Mind you, my wife Beth is not your typical hardened criminal. She is wonderfully compassionate, trustworthy and has a strong sense of justice. She doesn’t beat people up or rob them. And in all the years I’ve known her, I have never once seen her take drugs to get “high.” And yet she is routinely treated like a felon, or at the very least like a suspect, not only by the government but also by Nashville-area doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals.

Here’s the sort of thing Beth and many other people who suffer with chronic pain experience. Beth was taking oxycontin (oxycodone) and through no fault of her own became addicted to it. Her doctor recommended that she switch to another type of painkiller: a skin patch that releases a steady stream of medicine on a time-release basis. This patch does not give Beth a “rush.” It just helps her function without experiencing excruciating pain every time she moves.

However, the DEA seems to think that anyone who uses such patches must be another Osama bin Laden. So there are all sorts of intensely picky regulations about the patches, which leave Beth vulnerable to pain because the patches are far from perfect. For instance, some of the patches are hard to apply and won’t stay flush with Beth’s skin, making the release of the medicine problematic. And sometimes the patches fall off, due to perspiration on hot days or after steamy showers.

If anything goes wrong with one of the patches, Beth is in for a world of hurt because the DEA makes it difficult or impossible for her to get a replacement patch without jumping through regulatory hoops. This takes time and sometimes proves impossible before the pain strikes in unrelenting waves.

Compounding the problem, if Beth complains to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist about her pain and problems she experiences with her medicine, she is likely to receive a look that says, “Dear Lord, why do I have to deal with another junkie?”

Now I am well aware that there are some people who will say or do just about anything to get high. But why should Beth be judged by people who don’t know her, because of what other people do?

I think the problem is similar to that of women who are raped, when men who have never been raped assume that they are somehow responsible for their own suffering. I once had terrible back pain — so bad that I could barely move one foot an inch in front of the other. I can remember my pain when I hear Beth gasping with hers, and it infuriates me that people who have no idea how much she hurts have the audacity to judge her just because other people take drugs to get high.

As Ron Paul and other politicians with brains (seemingly, the minority) have pointed out, the DEA’s so-called “War on Drugs” has been an abysmal failure. Anyone who wants to get high can find a way to obtain drugs — whether from a pusher, or a pill mill, or some unscrupulous doctor. But if someone like Beth tries to avoid breaking the law because she doesn’t want to jeopardize her family, she sometimes has to pay a very high price, in debilitating pain.

Thanks to nonsensical drug laws we spend exorbitant sums of money to keep hundreds of thousands of drug users in prison at the taxpayer’s expense, while law-abiding citizens like Beth can’t get the medicine they need when they need it, and end up being treated like criminals when they try to buy drugs legally but run out for unpredictable reasons.

It’s an unfair, broken system and it’s past time to fix it.

Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.

34 Comments on this post:

By: dargent7 on 4/20/12 at 2:06

Legalize "medical marijuana" NOW. For home use. 10 plants. Under 5' tall.

By: yogiman on 4/20/12 at 3:23

I sympathize with your wife's painful life, Mike. I'm sure it isn't as hard as her's but many others have different kinds of pains in their bodies that need medicine for relief.

I don't know her pain, but I know my back is back there and I go to a chiropractor. I've never taken any medicine because you can control many pains with your mental attitude.

I can remember in my earlier days when different drugs were across the counter medicines. Then the government came to the conclusion they shouldn't take care of themselves and set up the drug control laws.

Of course, the people and ways of life have changed over the years. I've really never been able to understand why any adult could "get high" on drugs just for the hell of it.

I can only believe it's a mental discrepancy that causes it.

By: BenDover on 4/20/12 at 3:35

I agree Mike and pray your wife is able to somehow get beyond this pain problem she is suffering; and in the mean time get the medication she need to assure she isn't hurting.

The DEA needs a major roto-router job to get the War on Drugs focus back on compassion and treatment rather than on crime and punishment.

By: slacker on 4/20/12 at 4:25

Mr. Burch, sorry to hear about your wife. I agree completely with your summation.
We should start giving a Wonderlic test to our lawmakers. Last I heard the fools were attempting to put cold medications behind the counter, to screen out the meth. heads.
I wore a transdermal patch at one time, and had the same problem with it coming loose.
I applied a piece of duct tape over the patch, and it did keep the patch in place.
Be advised, it might cause the medication to be absorbed quicker than desired.

By: Mike Burch on 4/20/12 at 4:49

Dargent7, I agree. Studies indicate that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol, and quite possibly less dangerous. If booze is legal, and things are better since prohibition was ended, why not legalize pot?

By: Mike Burch on 4/20/12 at 4:51


I'm sorry to hear about your back pain.

I am not an advocate of drug use. But I don't think Beth should have to suffer because other people abuse drugs. The DEA makes it hard for honest people to get medicine they need, and the drug addicts are going to get high anyway, so what's the point, really?

By: Mike Burch on 4/20/12 at 4:55


Thanks for your prayers. Beth can certainly use some help from above right now.

I think our government and courts need to reassess the war on drugs. Anyone who really wants to get high can buy them on the street. How many people who really want to use drugs have been stopped by the DEA? Probably few, if any.

When prohibition make alcohol illegal, it didn't stop stop people from drinking. It just reduced tax revenues and gave the crime lords money and power. Now we see the same thing with the gangs and cartels. And at the same time people like Beth are suffering unjustly.

By: Mike Burch on 4/20/12 at 4:59


Thanks for the tip. We have found a Mylan transdermal patch that adheres better than the Watson brand. Anyone who uses a transdermal patch should be careful about the manufacturer selected, because the patches are expensive and cannot be exchanged, thanks to the DEA. If your doctor gives you a 30 day prescription and the patches won't stick, or come off early, or don't deliver the medicine smoothly, you can be in a world of hurt for long periods of time.

The best solution is to let people buy the medicine they need when they need it, and not have rules that penalize the patients. If someone else buys too much medicine and overdoses, that's too bad, but it was a choice they made. Beth should not have to suffer for their mistakes.

By: yogiman on 4/20/12 at 10:27

Thanks for your comment, Mike. To me, my back doesn't hurt too bad but I constantly know its back there. I do believe their mentality is much of a person's cure on any problem, even to an extent of pain.

I smoked for 30 years and had gotten to 4 pack per day. When cigarettes went to 50 cents a pack I thought they were too expensive and decided to quit. I quit cold turkey and have never wanted one since then. And my office was a small office at that time and I and one other guy were the only ones that didn't smoke in there.

Your mental attitude is the biggest and best thing you have to control your life.

By: Ask01 on 4/21/12 at 6:01

I have always considered the height of hypocrisy to be someone depicting an individual using drugs as weak and lacking moral fiber, then requiring a cigarette or two followed by several alcoholic drinks to calm down.

From my perspective, alcohol and tobacco are as addictive to individuals and potentially as dangerous as costly to society as some drugs.

As I've commented previously, the justice system and society have seemingly forgotten the lessons of Prohibition and the futility of legislating morality. Not to mention the cost in monetary and manpower terms of pursuing, arresting, detainign, prosecuting, and incarcerating certain drug users and sellers.

Legalizing marijuana and perhaps cocaine, allowing the sale, and obviously taxation, through specialized stores would hurt organized crime, cutting a revenue source. Allowing government to control distribution, public health officials could at least offer in store information about responsible use of the product, and in theory, since the risk of incarceration played into the street price, allow the state controlled product to undercut and drive out of business street vendors.

Consider the impact. With marijuana and perhaps cocaine legal, sold at prices below what street pushers can offer, local law enforcement and DEA could focus on the more dangerous drugs and those selling. Court time and costs would be reduced as could incarceration costs. ( I don't care if CCA goes bankrupt. Private, corporate owned prisons offend my beliefs as profiteering on human frailties and mistakes and bordering on being a step above legalized slavery.)

Let us be honest, legal alcohol is as responsible for criminal behavior as illegal drugs. Legal tobacco use and associated health costs I believe are on a par with that associated with illegal drug use. The only difference is one set of drugs are legal while the other is not, and provides politicians with platform items with which to pander to some segments of society and some less honorable members of law enforcement an excuse to break heads. Not to mention the established alcohol and tobacco producers don't want the competition.

By the way yogi, I admire and applaud your internal strength and resolve allowing you to go cold turkey when giving up cigarettes. Such is a rare quality given the tremendous power of addictions to any substance.

By: BenDover on 4/21/12 at 7:18

The 'Justice' sector of our economy is mostly a public not private industry, Ask01. If you allow the biases against private corporations to enter into the debate it divides the argument and pits the people's ideologies against one another again; allowing these ridiculous, largely public fiefdoms to continue to grow and flourish. I'm not for privatization of these things either on the same grounds because I think it should be painful and costly for society to incarcerate people, but to call out private contractors in this social and cultural fiasco changes the debate.

Are half the lawyers not private sector? Do not all of the salaries (and egos) of the individuals involved, from judges, to prosecutors to jailers to police chiefs and officers all boil down to a same corruptible self-interested relationship against the consumer/taxpayer? Are we not dealing with a largely unchecked power over whatever minor impropriety in the citizenry they might address and focus to best fuel their machine?

Please don't distract from the whole of this devastating cancer by allowing a minority of the problem change it over to a completely different argument.

By: yogiman on 4/21/12 at 7:22

Thanks, Ask01. That was over 4 decades ago and it has no effect on me if I walk into a room crowded with smokers.

And I agree with you on the CCA prison scheme. When did the government's business go into private business? If the CCA can make a profitable income out of the prison service, why can't the government save that money and provide better service?

When will a company like CCA be allowed to take over city and country jails, and state prisons?

Should the governments get out of the prison business? Why are some prisoners placed in government institutions and others are "sold" to a private service?

By: Ask01 on 4/21/12 at 8:04

You're welcome yogi. I always admire someone who kicks any habit as I know the difficulty.

Ben, CCA was drawn into this because they stand to profit from laws allowing for the incarceration of drug users as well as those selling the product. A report released earlier this year detailed CCA's offer to several states to take over their prison system which included a requirement to garauntee a minimum occupancy rate. I was somewhat taken aback by this as such would seem to require efforts by a branch of government to convict possibly innocent people to meet a quota to support a private industry. The end result is no rehabilitation, no changes in outlook take place, as doing so would reduce the chance of repeat business. All these alleged corrections corporations do is warehouse people as cheaply as possible, so they can maximize profits and wait for them to return after release.

Private industry, be it tobacco, alcohol, or so called 'corrections' must oppose any legalization because they know their profits would fall. Such however, is the nature of our system. I've had to reinvent myself several times due to changes in technology and public attitudes. If they can't keep up, they will go bankrupt.

In short, the war on drugs is a dismal failure. The only ones profitting from the war are agencies funded to fight the war and industries providing tools and equipment facilitating the facade of winning.

Oh, and the organized crime figures earing money from high prices charged to make the risk acceptable. Consider the reported street value of siezed drugs and ask why something which grows wild in someplaces, even after processing is so expensive. Because of the cost of evading, successfully usually, law enforcement and to again, make the risk of prison acceptable because of high profit.

Legalize, control the production, and tax the sale of at least marijuana and watch the profits likely match those of alcohol. At the same time, the exhorbitant cost of fighting a losing battle will drop sharply, organized crime will be cut off from a lucrative market and we can save probably billions on law enforcement, court costs, and incarceration.

Just imagine the wonderous sight of cops, judges, prosecutors, and 'corrections officer's,' perhaps even CCA executives sitting in the unemployment office with the common folk begging for benefits and food stamps.

Such a concept warms my heart more than you know.

By: BenDover on 4/21/12 at 8:39

It's so interesting that you impugn the small private sector portion of this with motives of greed and self interest and do not see the public sector the same way. In truth the privatization only makes the core public sector problem more efficiently bad. It's like seeing money as something evil rather than just an instrument to improve the efficiency of commerce.

I'm against privatization of prisons because it's akin to giving Nazis gas chambers to replace their rifles and it makes them more efficiently evil. I'm against their end so I want them to suffer a less efficient means as it will slow them down and make them less efficient in ruining people's lives.

I'm OK though with your support in the matter even if it's based on a misguided aversion to private companies.

By: Ask01 on 4/21/12 at 10:41

I have no problem with commerce particularly when such is used to enrich not just the business owner but profits are spread to employees allowing them to realize a decent lifestyle and share the American dream through hard work and contributing to the success of a company.

My point I guess I have failed to make clear is I have extreme angst regarding private enterprise performing what should be the responsibility of government. In this case the incarceration and supposed rehabilitation of those convicted of offenses against society. When government assumes the responsibility correction and rehabilitation, which should be the goal of incarceration, they are acting, hopefully, without the goal of profit, but with ensuring behavior modification preventing recidivism.

How can a profit driven entity, with a constant eye on the bottom line, be expected to accomplish the same goal? After all, if there are no convicted criminals, they have no business, therefore no profit.

All this is a great exchange of ideas and viewpoints though, which I have enjoyed since we never stooped to name calling and insults. A truly refrshing interchange.

However, I have strayed from my original point, I fear, for which I apologize.

I believe, to recap, the war on drugs to be a dismal failure. In my opinion, the costs of conducting this faux war, to include recon, interdiciton, arrest, detention, trial, appeals, and incarceration, is, when compared to the taxes, fees, licensing, and other revenue streams possible if some of the more lightweight (for lack of a better word) drugs were legalized and regulated similarly as alcohol is far out of balance.

Society needs to acknowledge the inability to eradicate drugs and concentrate on the more destructive compounds available or resolve to attack all intoxicating and/or mood altering drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. A needless historical note, American zealots already tried that tactic with disastrous results. An additional observation, attempting to eradicate tobacco, declaring the growing, processing, selling, transporting, or even possession of tobacco products a federal crime would I think result in a backlash the like of which the United States, even with an overly armed and equipped police force could not weather.

Sorry for the long disjointed rant. I have little opportunity to post and tend to ramble. I just endeavor to establish and defend my position and too often stray.

Thanks, all.

By: yogiman on 4/21/12 at 11:04

No apology necessary, Ask01.

Other's opinions are good to "hear". That is, if you're really interested in what's going on around you and have the wisdom to understand different opinions.

You're making better sense than most of the other posters on this site. (need I name them?)

By: Mike Burch on 4/21/12 at 6:15


You make good points and I largely agree with you. I think the bottom line is that the war on drugs is not working, has wasted billions of dollars, and has penalized millions of people unfairly. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. By that definition, the war on drugs is insane.

Mike Burch

By: Mike Burch on 4/21/12 at 6:17


Congratulations on quitting smoking cold turkey. My mother and father did the same thing when I was a young boy. Seeing what they went through, I never wanted to smoke and never did.

By: yogiman on 4/21/12 at 7:41


I hope it wasn't too bad for your parents because I've known several people who wanted to quit and simply couldn't, even with these expensive "quit drugs" they're selling now.

To be honest, I really didn't go through anything when I quit. I just decided to quit and quit... after I smoked the last cigarette in my pack. I didn't want to throw my money away. I have never had a desire for a cigarette since. It was like I had never smoked one in my life.

By: dargent7 on 4/22/12 at 5:45

So, what? "yogi", you have the most hate filled non-sensical crap ever posted. So, you don't smoke. Something's clogging your brain.
Maybe all the red meat you've eaten. Maybe all the alcohol. Maybe just bad genes.
Obviously Levi's.

By: yogiman on 4/22/12 at 6:07

Nonsensical only to you ignorant brain, dargent7. What do you mean by hate filled? If you are referring to the usurpation of the US presidency by Barry Soetoro (a.k.a. Barack Obama), you are right. I hate anyone who so blatantly steals our Oval Office. I also hate the members of Congress for allowing it to knowingly allow it to happen.

Let's see: You accept a man as your president whom you know nothing about. You don't know his name, you don't know where he was born, you don't know where he was educated (if he was) and who refuses to identify himself to you. Yet you admire that man.

That, young man, I call ignorant stupidity.

By: Mike Burch on 4/22/12 at 1:02


My parents both quit successfully and haven't smoked for more than 40 years. So it can be done. But it was easier for me, because I never smoked in the first place. I do drink a glass of wine or two, but never socially and only before bed, so that I never drink and drive. Red wine is supposed to be good for the heart, in moderation, and it helps me nod off to sleep right away. I think we can choose to make wise decisions, or make bad decisions. I have never like taking unnecessary risks, so I stayed away from cigarettes and drugs.

By: Mike Burch on 4/22/12 at 1:10


While I disagree with Yogi about President Obama, I don't remember him posting hate-filled crap.

As I have pointed out to Yogi before, I would rather have an intelligent Kenya or even a Martian as president, if the only other choice is one of the Three Stooges (aka Romney, Santorum and Gingrich).

I think Yogi's mistake is focusing on a piece of paper rather than the qualifications of the people running for office. How can anyone prove that their birth certificate is 100% valid? They could have been switched at birth. Hospitals can and do make mistakes. Very few of us can "prove" that we are who we say we are.

The focus on President Obama's birth certificate is obviously due to his skin color and unusual-sounding name. I think Yogi should spend more time considering the man rather than a piece of paper. But I don't remember him spewing racist crap. He's more like a pit bull with his teeth lodged in a bone that he refuses to let go, even though it has no meat or flavor.

By: Loner on 4/22/12 at 4:27

For some reason, I get the Up for Debate boards but the Mike Burch article does not come up until some time later...so I'm commenting now, rather than sooner.

I hope that Mike's wife somehow recovers to the point that she does not need the pain killers.

Most posters know that I am a big fan of legalizing Cannabis and most know that I have called our POTUS a reneger on this issue.

Obama may have reneged, but the alternative - a Mormon knucklehead - is worse.

Maybe BO will act with more balls in his second term....but I think that his main concern will be enhancing his legacy, once the dust of the elections settle...the man's ego is huge....he won't rock the boat too much...he'll ride out another four years of doing the special interest's bidding.....securing his place in history: the quota boy who couldn't....just another corrupt Chicago politician.

By: yogiman on 4/22/12 at 4:35

Thanks for your comment about me on my side of the fence, Mike, but with your comment about my focusing on a "piece of paper" instead of a person's intelligence for his being in the Oval Office begins to make me wonder where you got your education and if you are really an American citizen.

When you comment the Constitution shouldn't mean anything in electing a president makes me wonder more about your citizenship and civical education.

You mention Obama's "intelligence". Mike, you really don't know his intelligence. If you do, where did you get your information? No one else seems able to get it. When I see him talk and hear him stuttering through his words makes me wonder if he even went to school. If he doesn't have the telepromters, he can't give an understanding talk.

And I assure you, Obama's name and color skin has nothing to do with the focus on him being in that office illegally. His illegality of being in that office is the main and only focus involved on the issue.

Which makes me wonder, what is going to be your, and you fellow posters, thoughts and reactions on this site when he is proven to be a criminal and knows he is.

Question: If he is (which he isn't) in that office legally, why is he so secretive about himself?

I imagine I have information on him you don't but you're going to find out in the next few months. In the meantime, I hope you learn what the Constitution is all about.

By: yogiman on 4/22/12 at 4:45

There's a big difference between the two, Loner. Mitt Romney is legally qualified for that office, Barack Obama isn't.

Mitt Romney is obviously a successful businessman, Barack Obama obviously isn't. So which one do you want: One who will work to get you and your grandchildren out of debt, or one who will work to get you and your grandchildren deeper into debt?

I'd rather have one in the office legally that will make an effort to get me and my grandchildren out of debt.

Care to join me?

By: Loner on 4/22/12 at 6:56

If Ron Paul is on the ballot, I plan to vote for the guy...he has no chance to win any Electoral College votes, of course. Voting for RP is a protest vote against the Electoral College system and its negative effects.

Romney is a religious whack and Obama is a lying sack; Ron Paul is on the right track.

By: Loner on 4/22/12 at 6:58

Yogi will be forced to howl, like a mad dog, for another 4 years when "Barry" gets re-elected....lots of armed Yogis out there....may God preserve the President from the mad dogs.

By: yogiman on 4/22/12 at 9:16

Let's wait until November to start howling, Loner. I want a chance to get out of your way. I'm too slow to get out of your way in that "NEW" JEEP.

And by the way, you're so anti-Electoral College I suggest you listen to Bob Whittle explain it to you. It may get through your "my vote 'oughta' win" argument.

Check him out on Bing or google. Just ask for Bob Whittle explains the Electoral College

By: Ummm... on 4/23/12 at 5:55

Over 10 years ago, I ruptured a disc in my back. In great pain, I went to the St. Thomas Hospital emergency room for help. I was treated as if I were faking my symptoms in order to obtain pain medication- I was told by an emergency room physician that I "couldn't have a ruptured disc," because I would be unable to be sitting there. Finally a nurse came in with a shot of demerol for the pain, and asked me, "who's your favorite nurse?" as if she was doing me some big favor. Within two weeks I was back in that same hospital undergoing surgery for the ruptured disc that I "couldn't have."
I'm sure health care professionals frequently see those who are trying to scam them in order to obtain drugs to get high, but unless they are able to tell the difference between the dopers and those who are genuinely in pain with some certainty, they should not be operating under potentially mistaken assumptions.

By: BigPapa on 4/23/12 at 7:30

What politician has the b@lls to stand up and say it's time to decriminalize marijuana? It would be suicide, you'd be labeled "the pot head" for the rest of the election.

The USA both Libs and Righties are prone to Puritanical behavior, just on different issues. This issue is a non-starter.. we just are not grown up enough in this culture to have this discussion.

This requires rational, adult conversation and reasoning. We currently operate on nothing but emotion and hyperbole.

By: gdiafante on 4/24/12 at 5:19

I agree and can sympathize with you, Mike. I had a run in with the local pharmacy in early March that was in a similar vein. A prescription was almost out, it was before a weekend getaway, so I thought I'd try to get it refilled since I wouldn't be in town.

First, they read the riot act that the prescription wasn't due. Then they explained that although February only had 29 days, that doesn't give me the right to try and get my meds early (two days). Third, this particular pharmacy had so many locations that I was sure to find one that could fill it on my getaway.

Yeah, I was embarrassed, having to argue for medication like a junkie over two stinking pills...


By: Captain Nemo on 4/24/12 at 7:08

Mike I hope things get better for your wife.

By: conservarage on 4/24/12 at 10:50

enforcing pot laws is a waste of time and $$$ - legalize it.