My First Controlled Substance
One thing my friends and colleagues would say about me,
if asked...is that I'm a
stickler for "keeping it clean."
It's not about the drugs.
It's about justice and
compassion and truth
and making the world a better place for all people.
I was never
into drugs growing up, so why start now?
Still, there's a first time for everything,
events that took place earlier today prove it.
Today I purchased, and am considering
my first 'controlled substance'.
Don't get too excited yet.
This morning I had a long-neglected
wisdom tooth pulled
out, and as a reward undergoing surgery,
I received a prescription for
which primarily consists of acetaminophen
but also contains
quantities of the opiate drug codeine.
My controlled substance prescription
written and filled
no questions asked.
Ironically, I might not even wind up using it.
The extraction went about as smoothly
as it could have,
and most of my discomfort is from the spots
where they injected
the novocaine (a derivative of cocaine).
Don't ask me for any of my prescription,
it's only been a few hours and I want to make sure
I have it if it turns out I
Actually, the real reason I can't give you any
is that to do so, would be a federal
I couldn't help but think this morning of Dr. Morrell,
a physician from Michigan
I met a few years ago
at a Drug Policy Foundation conference.
Dr. Morrell had spent
five years in federal prison
for what at the worst amounted to technical
the use of his DEA controlled substances
at a public health clinic in a low
The substance that sent Dr. Morrell to the penitentiary
was the same one I obtained
so easily this morning,
Under federal mandatory minimum statutes,
prosecutors were able to charge him
based not only
on the quantity of codeine
contained in the pills,
but on the pills' total weight,
consisting mostly of the
acetaminophen found in
ordinary, over-the-counter Tylenol!
The judge was required
by federal law
to sentence him based on that enormously
inflated quantity, hence
the five year sentence.
Dr. Morrell's colleague, if I remember correctly,
for an even larger number of pills,
and got ten years and is probably still behind bars.
No wonder so many doctors and pharmacists
are afraid to provide the much larger
of much more potent pain relievers needed by the true pain patients --
patients with truly excruciating levels
going on for years.
The kind of pain that can
make you unable to function
or even prompt suicide.
I couldn't help but think of my
pain activist friends
who went for
months or even years
before they found a doctor
willing to take the chance.
And they are the lucky ones.
I also couldn't help but wonder
if a black man on the other side of Washington
getting his tooth pulled...
the same prescription as easily I was,
with as much faith in his propriety?
I don't know the answer to that last question with
It may be that it would vary from clinic to clinic,
doctor to doctor or
patient to patient.
What I do know is that the handful
of white pills
in my backpack
should under no
be a pretext for the government to ruin people's lives,
use, exchange or prescription has been
properly authorized or not.
I do know that
the existence of laws
empowering government officials to do so
based on those
is extraordinarily dangerous
and prone to corruption and abuse.
know that as a result of such laws,
hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of
people even the drug warriors didn't intend to target
-- have been left without
the relief, the lifeline, that these
and other medications
could and should provide
The rest of us can't quite claim to "feel their pain,"
I can't...based on one bad
Even my friend's friend, who couldn't get pain meds
for a broken nose
the doctor who set it,
believed he'd use them to "get high,"
maybe can't quite
understand what severe, chronic pain means
or what the drug war is doing to
patients living with it.
But we can understand the problem,
and we can be patient and supportive of those
suffering severe pain
and who need these medications; and we can work to
DEA out of our doctor's offices
and to end
the police state of medicine plaguing this
For More Information Go To
See DCRNet at
for an overview of the impact of the war
By Katherine Eban
Copyright Playboy Magazine, August, 1997.
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