Fun doings up in the Mountain State, on country roads, where the West Virginia Supreme Court recently ruled that drug addicts can sue physicians and pharmacies for their addictions. “In a 3-2 decision … the justices paved the way for people to claim damages for allegedly causing or contributing to their addictions of controlled substances– (drum roll please) even if they broke the law by doctor shopping.” Chief Justice Margaret Workman said the plaintiffs were entitled to seek damages even though they themselves behaved illegally or immorally (my emphasis). “…The majority noted that most, if not all, of the plaintiffs admitted their abuse of controlled substances occurred before they sought help” at the defendant’s clinic. Justice Allen Loughry, who dissented along with Justice Menis Ketchum, wrote: “There are no even remotely innocent victims here.” Loughry continued, “The decision “requires hardworking West Virginians to immerse themselves in the sordid details of the parties’ enterprise in an attempt to determine who is the least culpable – a drug addict or his dealer.”
The ruling involved 29 people who were patients of Mingo County’s Mountain Medical Center, before it was shut down following a 2010 FBI raid which found evidence of improperly prescribed controlled substances. Most sought treatment for job-related injuries or injuries stemming from car accidents. They claimed they were prescribed controlled substances and became addicted because of criminal abuse of prescriptions. One of the physicians, Dr. Katherine Hoover, the number one prescriber of pain medications in the state from 2002-2010, was accused of “recklessly and illegally issuing hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for pain medications from the clinic.” She never faced criminal charges and now lives in the Bahamas. “She says she went there last year because of health problems and because she feared for her safety. “To the best of my ability, every patient who was treated was treated in good faith for pain,” she said in a phone interview.”
(“The state medical board revoked her license last year after she missed a disciplinary hearing related to allegations she asked a 17-year-old female patient to have sex with her teen sons in 1995.”) Party time, mountain mama!
In the same town of Williamson a few blocks from the raided medical clinic, Dr. Diane Shafer was running a cash-for-pills machine, at her peak netting more than $1.3 million/year. Shafer’s receptionist Myra Miller pled guilty to giving out prescriptions pre-signed by Shafer in exchange for some of the pills. Both got six months in federal prison for conspiring to misuse a DEA number.
So there are bad doctors out there who will harm patients for cash. And there are bad patients out there who will invite such harm, repeatedly, and then try to divert blame for their misbehavior on to others just as quickly as they try to divert narcotics. And we live in a no-one-gets-recess, group punishment-mentality society where dull-witted politicians and simple-minded voters will pick the seemingly easy solution. That solution will be more surveillance, more threats, and more hesitation to write prescriptions for controlled substances. Society’s judgment will further supplant that of the physician. So real doctors who want to help patients, and those patients themselves, will ultimately pay the tab for the party up in the mountains.