TUCSON, Ariz., Dec. 14, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- As deaths from opioid overdoses soar, the government is targeting physicians for blame, writes Lawrence Huntoon, M.D., Ph.D., in the winter issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

“Prosecutors have focused on alleging inappropriate prescribing of opioids, or on over-treatment of pain, which they state leads to addiction, abuse, overdose, and death,” he writes.

“Myths, erroneous perceptions, and ignorance often trump reality, and along with political ambition, drive prosecutors to seek convictions and long prison terms for those whom they assert are responsible for what has been labeled the opioid crisis.”

Even following a strict prescribing and monitoring protocol may not protect the physician, Dr. Huntoon warned, noting that addicts or drug dealers are often very skilled at deceiving physicians.

Once accused, the physician will be tried in the press, making it difficult to find an unbiased jury. The probability of conviction in federal court is so high (greater than 90 percent), legal costs are so overwhelming, and the prison sentences so long for a conviction on a single count that most of the accused take a plea bargain, Dr. Huntoon writes.

An example of a trial in the press is the case of a pain specialist in upper New York State, Dr. Eugene Gosy, who is facing charges tied to six patient deaths. Dr. Huntoon states that the death rate in the tens of thousands of patients Dr. Gosy treated was less than the national average, and that the doctors who took over the care of his patients were impressed by the excellent quality of his care. Local physicians are reluctant to accept Dr. Gosy’s patients because of fear of prosecution. The prosecutor, however, rejects the notion that patients have any individual responsibility for their addiction; he calls that “blaming the victim,” Dr. Huntoon states.

According to a study cited by Dr. Huntoon, less than 1 percent of well-screened patients become addicted to opioids prescribed for chronic non-cancer pain. Most abusers obtained their drugs from friends or family, from drug dealers, or over the internet.

While the government places more and more restrictions on opioid prescribing, the number of deaths continues to rise. Dr. Huntoon concludes that “legislators and government policymakers have misdiagnosed the cause of the opioid crisis and have prescribed solutions to control physician prescribing and micromanage medicine. These actions have harmed the public, physicians, and the patient-physician relationship.”

The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons is published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943.

Lawrence R. Huntoon, M.D., Ph.D., (716) 627-7759, editor@jpands.org, or Jane M. Orient, M.D., (520) 323-3110, janeorientmd@gmail.com