Florida MD Found Guilty of Manslaughter for Prescribing Pain Medication

A story reported from the March 11, 2002 publication of the American Medical News is shaking the Medical profession to its core. The story reported that last month, James F. Graves, MD, a Pace, Fla., pain management specialist, became the first doctor found guilty by way of a jury of manslaughter in connection with prescribing the pain killer OxyContin. B. Eliot Cole, MD, continuing medical education director at the American Academy of Pain Management, responded to the case by saying, "Every one of these headlines probably makes 10,000 doctors wish that they had attended law school."

Florida prosecutors charged that Dr. Graves recklessly wrote prescriptions to anyone prepared to pay money for an office visit without asking the correct pre-prescribing questions. That, they argued, resulted in several deaths. Dr. Graves responded that he was following medical protocols and legitimately prescribed OxyContin and other pain medication to patients he saw in his office. He claimed that if the patients would've taken the medications as prescribed, they might not have died.

The jury sided with the prosecution's version of the facts and found Dr. Graves responsible for four counts of manslaughter, one count of racketeering and five counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. Dr. Graves faces up to thirty years in prison.

Ira Byock, MD, director of Palliative Care Service in Missoula, Montana responded, "It's truly scary," he further added, "The fact that a physician was convicted on a criminal charge of manslaughter is definitely more likely to have an impact on how physicians treat patients with chronic pain. Physicians won't understand all the details of the case, they will know a physician was at legal risk for criminal charges."

Presently, at the least two more cases like Dr. Graves are on court dockets. One particular case is in California in which a physician faces manslaughter charges for painkiller prescriptions he wrote, including OxyContin. The other case is in Florida in which a physician is facing murder charges, a much more serious charge than manslaughter.

The article concluded with a quote from Aaron Gilson, PhD, assistant director and researcher for policy study at the Pain and Policy Studies Group, University of Wisconsin, Madison, "The pendulum swings, nevertheless the ramifications will be more profound this time because pain management wasn't as much an element of the national health care forum before the 1990s. ... More patients will be affected."

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