Skip to comments.Sick - A Florida paraplegic needs relief.
Posted on 10/25/2005 2:51:56 AM PDT by JTN
Today, Richard Paey sits in a wheelchair behind high walls and razor wire in a high-security prison near Daytona Beach. Paey is a 46-year-old father of three, and a paraplegic. His condition is the result of a car accident, a botched back surgery, and a case of multiple sclerosis three setbacks that have left him in a chronic, debilitating state of pain. After moving to Florida from New Jersey, Paey found it increasingly difficult to get prescriptions for the pain medication he needed to function normally to support his family, and to be a parent to his children.
Paey's difficulties finding treatment were in large part due to federal- and state-government efforts to prevent the illegal use or "diversion," as the feds call it of prescription pain medicine. Doctors today face fines ,suspension, the loss of license or practice, the seizure of property, or even prison time in the event that drug cops (most of whom have no medical training) decide they are prescribing too many painkillers. As a result, physicians are understandably apprehensive about aggressively treating pain.
Like many pain patients, Paey found himself on the blunt end of such policies. He went from doctor to doctor, looking for someone to give him the medication he needed. By the time he eventually turned to his old New Jersey doctor for help, he had already attracted the attention of Florida drug-control authorities. What happened next is disputed, but it ended with Paey getting arrested, getting his home raided, and eventually getting convicted of drug distribution.
Paey insists his old doctor wrote him the prescriptions he needed. The Florida pharmacists who testified at his trial back him up. But the doctor says he forged the prescriptions. For his part, Paey holds no animus against his former doctor. Cops gave the doctor a devil's bargain give Paey up, or face 25-years-to-life imprisonment for the excessive proscribing of painkillers. Paey still maintains the prescriptions were legitimate, but understands why his doctor turned against him.
The larger issue, of course, is why a man who is clearly not an addict (he wasn't taking the medication to get high) and had a legitimate use for the medication wasn't given access to what he needed in the first place.
State prosecutors concede there's no evidence Paey ever sold or gave his medication away. Nevertheless, under draconian drug-war statutes, these prosecutors could pursue distribution charges against him based solely on the amount of medication he possessed (the unauthorized possession of as few as 60 tablets of some pain medications can qualify a person as a "drug trafficker").
After three trials, Richard Paey was convicted and put in prison for 25 years, effectively a life sentence for someone in his condition. Ironically, the state of Florida now pays for a morphine pump connected to Paey's spine which delivers the same class of medication at the same doses the state of Florida told him wasn't necessary, and put him in prison for trying to obtain.
Prosecutors originally offered Paey a plea bargain that would have helped him avoid jail time, but Paey refused, insisting that (a) he did nothing wrong, and (b) even if he had, it shouldn't be a crime to seek relief from chronic pain. Paey feared that a plea would make other doctors in the state more reluctant to treat pain than they already were.
Publicly, Paey's prosecutors have conceded that the 25-year sentence was excessive, yet they insist that Paey himself is to blame, citing his refusal to accept a plea agreement. The chilling implication: Paey is serving prison time for drug distribution not because he's guilty of actually distributing drugs the state admits as much but because he insisted on exercising his constitutionally-protected right to a jury trial.
Earlier this year, New York Times columnist John Tierney flew to Florida to interview Paey for a story that ran on July 19. Tierney's column was sympathetic to Paey's plight, and sharply critical of the state of Florida.
There is now strong evidence that the state of Florida and prison officials retaliated against Paey for speaking with Tierney. Two weeks after the interview, Paey was moved to a prison facility more than two hours from his wife and family. He was then moved even farther away, some 170 miles, to the Tomoka Correctional Institution near Daytona Beach. Sympathetic prison officials, other inmates, and medical staff have since told Paey he was moved away from his family because the guard who sat in on his interview with Tierney had complained to prison authorities about what Paey had revealed to the journalist.
At about the same time, prison medical staff told Paey that the state of Florida had refused to give permission for them to refill his morphine pump. For Paey, this information was the equivalent of a death sentence. The state of Florida left him to agonize for weeks before finally authorizing the refill, the day before his pump was scheduled to run dry. Here again, Paey has since been given strong reason to believe that the threat to withhold his medication was in retaliation for relaying his story to the New York Times.
Two activist groups representing pain patients the Pain Relief Network and the November Coalition have begun a campaign urging Governor Jeb Bush to grant Richard Paey a pardon. Governor Bush should hear them out. Richard Paey is not a criminal. He isn't a threat to anyone. He's a tragic figure who has become a political prisoner of America's allegiance to zero-tolerance drug prohibition.
The Paey case has already cast a good deal of shame on the state of Florida. Just how much more shame his story brings to the state depends on whether political leaders move to rectify his plight, or rather choose simply to ignore him, and continue to intimidate him into spending the rest of his 25-year prison term in silence.
Governor Bush should free Richard Paey. And Florida lawmakers should pass reforms to ensure that drug-war fanaticism no longer prevents sick people from getting the medication they need.
Radley Balko is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
Ping. jmc I know you used to have the WOD ping list. Here's hoping you still do.
("Denny Crane: Gun Control? For Communists. She's a liberal. Can't hunt.")
Is that him?
Yup, that's the guy. Photo and charges can be found in Florida offender database, although it does not list any priors.
If only prosecutors could be prosecuted for using the law in ways that are just silly. The number of human beings walking around with no capacity for reason is just frightening. America is not supposed to be the country where people are thrown in jail and tortured for 'crimes' that hurt no one.
Change the name of the prisoner to Rush Limbaugh and see if the same results would happen!
Thanks for the tip. When arguing these issues I throw around a lot of statistics, and constitutional and philisophical arguments. Those are good I guess, but when you can put a face to the problem it hits pretty hard. I'm a little sickened and depressed.
("Denny Crane: Gun Control? For Communists. She's a liberal. Can't hunt.")
Here's another (although not unbiased) article explaining the case in more detail and is well worth reading, especially the qoute by a gutless juror.
Taking full advantage of the media frenzy is the Florida drug control establishment, led by Citrus State "drug czar" James McDonough, head of the governor's Office of Drug Control. Since last fall, McDonough and Florida Republican legislators have been pressing a bill that would enact a prescription monitoring system, and that bill is now near passage.
Richard Paey is a desperately sick man who took desperate measures to ease his pain: Florida police and DEA agents who followed him for months described him wheeling himself into one pharmacy after another and leaving clutching his bags of pain pills. But that didn't matter to prosecutors who tried him as a drug trafficker three times before they could win a conviction that would send him to prison for years.
"It's unfortunate that anybody has to go to prison, but he's got no one to blame but Richard Paey," Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis told the St. Petersburg Times after sentencing. "Even if he possessed one pill illegally, it's a crime. All we wanted to do was get him help and get him treated to ensure that he's not doing anything criminal," he added.
Paey and prosecutors wrestled over possible plea bargains as the third trial neared, but Paey ultimately decided to reject a deal that would require him to plead guilty to a crime. He simply didn't believe he was anything other than a victim of a medical system hijacked by the imperatives of the war on drugs.
It was a gamble that almost paid off. One juror, Dwayne Hillis, told the Times he did not want to vote to convict Paey, but relented after he was assured by the jury foreman that Paey would receive probation. "It's my fault," said Hillis, a 42-year-old landscaper from Hudson. "Basically I should have stuck it out."
Hillis was misinformed by the foreman. Paey was convicted of "trafficking" in more than 28 grams -- less than one 100-pill prescription -- of Percocet, a medicine containing 1.5% oxycodone. Under Florida law, he faced a mandatory minimum 25-year prison sentence and $500,000 fine.
"They compromised," Paey said after the verdict, "and in the field of justice, compromises lead to horrible injustice."
"I said, "Guilty. Put it on the (verdict). I hope you all can live with yourselves,'" Hillis recalled. "I just hate myself for what I did."
At the hearing, sentencing Circuit Judge Daniel Diskey expressed dismay at having to impose the harsh sentence, but ultimately washed his hands of the matter. Responding to a comment from a Paey defense attorney that the legislature needed to change the law, Judge Diskey said, "You read my mind. In 22 years of practicing law... I have watched the trial court's discretion in sentencing eroding away." Legislative guidelines have "virtually eliminated judicial discretion," he added. But Judge Diskey ultimately played his appointed role. "It should come as no surprise that I am going to follow the law," he said just before imposing sentence.
"Look what happens when prosecutors know that the defendant was a patient in pain and had no intent to sell the medicines. This madness must be stopped," said Siobhan Reynolds, head of the Pain Relief Network (http://www.painreliefnetwork.org), a group supporting the right of pain patients and the physicians who prescribe for them to be treated with dignity and compassion. "Richard V. Paey has been a victim of advanced multiple sclerosis and a botched back surgery, and on April 16, Paey became another victim of overzealous prosecution of pain patients and mandatory minimums," said Reynolds, who attended the sentencing.
"Paey, in his wheelchair with a morphine pump sewn into his ruined back, will live out what for him is a death sentence in a Florida prison for possessing the medicine that he requires to survive," Reynolds noted. "He needs air conditioning in order to survive the summer, but Florida's prison system does not provide it. This is an absolute travesty."
Two weeks ago, Paey's wife Linda told Drug War Chronicle she expected him to serve less than a year before winning on appeal. Now, if he can only hold out that long.
Sad article. It was informative. It seems a shame he is being punished for being sick...and it breaks my heart.
It is important for conservatives to take a long, hard look at Gov Jeb Bush. He has twice, now, failed to act to insure humane treatment for Florida citizens. This unwillingness to stand in the breach against injustice does not bode well for conservative values.
People who pass and enforce such mornic laws should spend a few months in terrible chronic pain as an educational experience. The policy of punishing people in chronic pain is indefensible and awful and a huge stain on the Bush presidency.
you may have already seen this...if not then ping!
Totalitarian socialism - American style!
The pious liars and smug thugs who support these evil anti-drug laws should be put down like diseased animals.
Yes it is. It is also important for people to be compassionate .
Nazis doing what Nazis do...
Meanwhile, Florida set free the trio that aided and abetted in the murder of little Jessica Lunsford. Well, prosecutors have to set priorities....
It's a terrible story. It's horrid to treat someone with MS like this.
Paging Claire: Is it time yet?
What a story...
Disgusting. Zero tolerance = zero intelligence.
Thanks for the ping. I'm not sure whether to be incensed or depressed after reading this article.
I'd sure like to know what the supporters of the War on Drugs have to say about this.
Thanks for the ping. What a sickening tragedy. This story should be spread far and wide.
Why hasn't Gov. Bush issued a pardon? A quick search on Yahoo did not reveal a response from the governor.
Florida should go after illegal aliens.
I get interested in these stories until I get to the excess drama.
I agree. I normally don't wish harm on people, but I make an exception for the Drug Warriors. They are some of the most heartless and evil scum walking free in this country today. Suffer, bastards, I hope you suffer pain like the hammers of Hell someday!
You'll find it pretty dramatic someday when you are bedridden with pain, and no doctor will prescribe you effective pain relief because of the lunatic anti-drug policies you routinely support here.
Check out this page http://www.november.org/cartoons/. Paey seems to be his own worst enemy, a possible attention whore, and wannabe drug martyr. Until you guys tone down the rhetoric, and seriously consider both sides of the issue, you aren't doing anybody any good.
Even the person I replied to admitted he was a bit over the top.
Absolutely 'over the top' - there should be trials first!
Thanks for the ping.
jmc, how have you been?
Hi Cathryn! I've been great! Moved two months ago, so things have been a bit hectic, and freeping has been a bit limited. Nice to see you around and I trust all is well. Are you still publishing columns?
I still write, but not as much as I used to. That's only because I've gotten so busy with school (and the university debate team). I'm finally about to graduate, though, and for that I'm grateful. LOL.