Sunday, July 22, 2007

Where've I been?

You can read about where I was Friday and yesterday here. And here. Here are some photos from the event. And even some international coverage here and here. And you can listen to a story about it here.

I've been peripherally involved, kind of as a research assistant, with the issue of OxyContin abuse since sometime in late 2000. I think. The abuse of this prescription drug has devastated our little corner of Appalachia, and also has hit southern and northeastern United States hard. The sentencing hearing yesterday in a Federal courtroom in Abingdon, VA, provided a measure of closure after literally years of wondering if the drug's manufacturer would ever be held accountable.

The hearing was to decide whether to accept or reject a previously agreed-upon plea deal between the U.S. Attorney and Purdue Frederick, which is an affiliated company of Purdue Pharma, the drug's manufacturer. I wasn't aware that the judge had as much discretion as he did, or that he would be listening to testimony from victims' families and witnesses for the accused.
I was prepared to be somewhat bored by what I thought was a done deal.

It was better than any Law and Order I've ever seen. Fascinating, heartbreaking, dramatic, riveting … I could roll out the clich├ęs for another paragraph, but I think you get the idea.

The upshot is that while the three executives named in the case didn't get jail time, as the families wanted, they did get three years' supervised probation and 400 hours of community service in the area of prescription drug abuse, along with multi-million-dollar fines. The company also is on supervised probation, for five years, and is to pay an unprecedented fine which, unfortunately, will go mostly to law enforcement, per the plea deal.

The judge was very moved by the victims' families statements, as were those of us in the packed courtroom. [They also had an overflow courtroom with a video feed.] In his decision, he stated he would have preferred that the agreement include a provision for some of the money to be directed toward treatment. We who have been involved in this issue agree wholeheartedly.

No jail time, though. Each week when I do my volunteer work at Alderson Federal Prison Camp, I meet women who are there because they were peripherally involved in a different side of the OxyContin issue. Our federal drug laws do not provide for treatment in lieu of incarceration. Those executives will never see the real damage they've caused: the children raised in foster care, the careers ruined, the lives wasted, the grieving families, the funerals. They'll pay their fines and get on with their lives. Being branded as criminals won't hurt them the way it does the thousands of men and women who are serving time because they sold this drug to an addict on the street, instead of to a doctor in an office.

There are many doctors in prison because of OxyContin, as well. Some were what we call "pill mill" doctors – they saw that freely prescribing OxyContin would be good business and they cashed in. But others prescribed it according to Purdue's package insert, and their patients died after taking it as prescribed. Lawsuits, trials and convictions followed.

At any rate, this chapter of this book is done, a bittersweet ending to a long fight for justice. I'm glad I was there. And after meeting the families, I'm acutely aware that there's more work to be done.

Tomorrow we'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for reading.


Barbra said...

That's fantastic Debbi! I am so glad you and dr. were involved. It must have been a very emotional time!

Lori said...

It's too bad you can't force those executives to read some of the things you've witnessed at your prison as a result of their actions.

I'm so glad you were able to go and see the final results (as least as far as the manufacturer is concerned).