NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 6, 2005

Unfortunately, despite frequent robberies and burglaries of pharmacies, doctors' offices, and warehouses where prescription medications are stored and sold, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has focused a troubling amount of time and resources on the prescriptions issued by practicing physicians, says Radley Balko, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute.

It's easy to see why:

  • Doctors keep records, they pay taxes and they take notes; they're an easier target than common drug dealers.
  • Doctors also often aren't aware of asset forfeiture laws; a physician's considerable assets can be divided up among the various law enforcement agencies investigating him before he's ever brought to trial.


  • The high-profile arrests and prosecutions of physicians (up to 200 per year, by one estimate) have caused many doctors to under-prescribe or refuse to see new patients.
  • It corrupts the candor necessary for an effective doctor-patient relationship.
  • Many physicians have left palliative therapy for less controversial practice.
  • The Village Voice reports that medical schools are now advising students to avoid pain management practice altogether.

Thirty state attorneys general have said that federal drug policy is interfering with legitimate medical practice. The White House now has two choices. It could order the DEA to end its pursuit of physicians, and leave medical policy to state governments and medical boards, where it belongs.

Or it could stand by the DEA's troubling anti-opioid campaign, and watch as more well-intentioned physicians go to jail, and millions of Americans continue to endure unnecessary grief, says Balko.

Source: Radley Balko, "Bush Should Feel Doctors' Pain," Cato Institute, April 5, 2005.

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