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  1. PenguinPhreak
    The federal government's war on drugs has turned into a witch hunt for
    doctors who legitimately prescribe legal painkillers, says a
    California physician who claims he was the target of an unethical
    federal investigation.



    "The war on drugs has become a war on sick people," Dr. Frank Fisher
    said Friday. "The war on drugs has morphed into a war on patients, and
    the doctors are caught in the crossfire."




    Fisher said the battle has erupted in Billings, where the Drug
    Enforcement Administration is investigating neurologist Richard A.
    Nelson. Nelson treated multiple chronic-pain sufferers with opioids,
    or narcotic painkillers, until federal agents raided his West End
    clinic three months ago.


    Fisher, whose general practice clinic near Redding, Calif., was shut
    down in 1999 by the DEA, spoke during a press conference in Billings
    on Friday.



    "My patients were tossed into the street and told to fend for
    themselves," Fisher said. "Up at the county clinic, they thought they
    were addicts, and they detoxed them."




    Fewer than 10 percent of Fisher's patients suffered from chronic pain,
    which he treated with narcotics.



    Prosecutors charged him with five counts of murder, alleging that five
    of his patients died because of the medication he prescribed for them.
    One of them died after the vehicle in which she was a passenger
    crashed.


    According to Fisher, the charges came after undercover agents posing
    as patients failed at least seven times to get him to write them
    prescriptions for fake symptoms.



    Ultimately, the murder charges and 91 misdemeanor counts of medical
    fraud were dismissed. A jury acquitted Fisher of eight more fraud charges.



    Fisher said it was all an attempt by the DEA to stop him from
    prescribing narcotic painkillers.



    And it worked.



    "I would like to treat chronic-pain patients," he said. "But it's too
    dangerous. It's suicidal."




    Fisher and Siobhan Reynolds, president of the Pain Relief Network,
    said the DEA has brought its scare tactics to Montana.



    "This situation developing in Billings is going on all over the
    country," Reynolds said during Friday's press conference. "Patients in
    pain are being summarily removed from care through action taken
    against their physicians."




    When the DEA revokes a doctor's prescription-writing privileges - as
    it did in Nelson's case - people in pain are often left with nowhere
    to turn, she said. Many of Nelson's patients have said they cannot
    find another physician to treat them.



    "People assume everyone is getting what they need, so if people turn
    up without meds, it must be because they did something wrong,"
    Reynolds said. "People who need meds can't get them."




    To that end, Reynolds, who lives in New York City, has spearheaded a
    petition drive in Billings asking the state's congressional delegation
    to initiate a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into the DEA.
    She delivered 330 signatures on Friday to the office of Sen. Max
    Baucus, D-Mont.


    Reynolds said the Pain Relief Network is in the process of opening a
    Billings office.



    "We are going to keep on bringing it up until ( these people ) are no
    longer victims of predation by the DEA," she said.



    Jan Johnson, a patient of Nelson's, said on Friday that shutting down
    legitimate sources for painkillers - such as Nelson's clinic - forces
    people to find the drugs another way.



    "The entire thing is supposed to be stopping the illegal sale of
    drugs, but what it's doing is promoting it," Johnson said. "People are
    going to do that because they are in a lot of pain."




    The DEA has not said why it is investigating Nelson, although the
    agency maintains that doctors who are doing nothing wrong should not
    fear investigation.



    Fisher traveled to Billings this week to see for himself whether
    Nelson was a legitimate doctor or a drug dealer. After examining
    medical records and meeting with patients Friday morning, Fisher said
    Nelson was doing nothing wrong.



    "I can tell you there's not a drug addict among them," he said of
    Nelson's patients. "He used ( narcotics ) cautiously and sparingly, and,
    from what I can see, he was doing a good job."
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