A story reported in the March 11, 2002 issue of the American Medical News is shaking the Medical profession to its core. The story reported that last month, James F. Graves, MD, a Pace, Fla., pain management specialist, became the first doctor found guilty by a jury of manslaughter in connection with prescribing the pain killer OxyContin. B. Eliot Cole, MD, continuing medical education director at the American Academy of Pain Management, responded to the case by saying, “Every one of these headlines probably makes 10,000 doctors wish they had gone to law school.”
Florida prosecutors charged that Dr. Graves recklessly wrote prescriptions to anyone willing to pay for an office visit without asking the proper pre-prescribing questions. That, they argued, led to several deaths. Dr. Graves responded that he was following medical protocols and legitimately prescribed OxyContin and other pain medication to patients he saw in his office. He claimed that if the patients would have taken the medications as prescribed, they would not have died.
The jury sided with the prosecution’s version of the facts and found Dr. Graves guilty of four counts of manslaughter, one count of racketeering and five counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. Dr. Graves faces up to 30 years in prison.
Ira Byock, MD, director of Palliative Care Service in Missoula, Montana responded, “It’s truly scary,” he further added, “The fact that a physician was convicted on a criminal charge of manslaughter is indeed likely to have an effect on how physicians treat patients with chronic pain. Physicians won’t know all the details of the case, they will know a physician was at legal risk for criminal charges.”
Presently, at least two more cases like Dr. Graves are on court dockets. One such case is in California where a physician faces manslaughter charges for painkiller prescriptions he wrote, including OxyContin. The other case is in Florida where a physician is facing murder charges, an even more serious charge than manslaughter.
The article concluded with a quote from Aaron Gilson, PhD, assistant director and researcher for policy study at the Pain and Policy Studies Group, University of Wisconsin, Madison, “The pendulum swings, but the ramifications are more profound this time because pain management wasn’t as much a part of the national health care forum before the 1990s. … More patients will be affected.”