Drug War Briefs: Zero Intelligence

This week, a report about a chronic pain patient sentenced to 25 years in prison for possession of an ounce of prescription painkillers; a Texas judge decides how to disburse a $6 million dollar settlement among 45 black defendants who had been framed by a racist cop in a phony drug sting; and the Navy discharges five SEALs for drug use.
June 16- Florida’s Daily Planet reports: What Happened To A Man Whose Only Crime, it Seems, Was Trying To Ease His Chronic Pain

"You know when you have a toothache and the pain is so severe that you absolutely have to be seen immediately by a dentist?" says the man in the wheelchair. "Imagine if you had to grin and bear it for an undetermined period of time. You can't see straight. You think you'll pass out, and sometimes you do. And sometimes you pray you will."

Richard Paey (pronounced "Pay"), chronic pain patient, is describing how bad his body can hurt. He suffers from what is often called "failed back syndrome," an inoperable condition that has sentenced him to a life of pain that most of us hopefully will never have to comprehend. This is not his only sentence. On March 5, he was convicted of 15 counts of drug trafficking, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and possession of a controlled substance, which earned him a mandatory minimum of 25 years in state prison and a $500,000 fine.

This is what Richard Paey did -- or, more accurately, this is what a jury found Richard Paey guilty of: fraudulently obtaining prescriptions of Percocet (which contains the opiate oxycodone) and Lortab (which contains another opiate, hydrocodone), each of which exceeded 28 grams.

That's the magic number, 28 grams. Illegally possessing this amount gets you 25 years. It's the same mandatory minimum as 28 grams of heroin.

Richard Paey is the latest poster boy for advocates of chronic pain patients, who say that this legion of silent sufferers -- from nine to 17 percent of adult Americans, according to studies -- face an ongoing culture clash with the War on Drugs.

The drug war has turned cops into docs and docs into cops. Physicians constantly screen for "drug seekers" by looking for certain behaviors. They have taken to urine-testing and interrogating folks who are desperately trying to alleviate their pain. Pain patients often get under-prescribed or turned away, leaving many of them in unnecessary agony. "There's so much suffering," Paey says. "They need a war on pain."

Consider that Pasco sheriff's deputies surveilled him for weeks and never found any evidence that he sold a single pill. Yet the state attorney's office charged him with trafficking -- because it could. In Florida, you can be charged with trafficking certain drugs, oxycodone and hydrocodone included, without actually peddling them. You merely need to possess them illegally.

June 19- Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports: A judge who ruled that an undercover agent in the now discredited 1999 Tulia drug busts was not a credible witness is returning to this West Texas town -- this time to decide how to divvy up a $6 million settlement among 45 defendants.

The Tulia cases brought national attention to this farming and ranching town of about 5,000 between Amarillo and Lubbock. Several civil rights groups claimed the drug arrests were racially motivated because 39 of the 46 arrested or charged in the 18-month operation were black. The agent was white.

Gov. Rick Perry granted pardons last year to 35 defendants who spent a combined total of 80 years behind bars. Charges were dropped against others arrested.

June 19- San Diego Union-Tribune reports: More than a dozen sailors, including eight SEALs, are being investigated after testing positive for illegal drug use, the Navy confirmed yesterday.

Seven sailors assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Command, including five SEALs, failed drug tests in early May while they were on a training exercise in Thailand.

Other sailors reported seeing the commandos using drugs in Pattaya, a Thai beach resort. That was enough for Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire, the Naval Special Warfare commander, to order a drug-testing sweep of 3,300 of the 4,600 men and women under his command. The only people not tested were those deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries and those on leave or on temporary duty.

In the sweep, six more sailors tested positive, including three SEALs, one student and two support personnel.

The episode is forcing the early replacement of two SEAL platoons overseas by two stateside units and has embarrassed units that have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war on terrorism.

The Navy has a zero-tolerance drug policy, and sailors caught using drugs usually are discharged. "This is something that's not taken lightly. One is too many," Bender said.
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