Editor’s Note: Linda Cheek is a family practice and alternative medicine physician in southwest Virginia. In February, Cheek wrote a column for American News Report discussing her efforts to treat pain patients, which were labeled a “deceitful practice” by state regulators.
This week Cheek pleaded not guilty to a 173-count federal indictment accusing her of distributing oxycodone and other painkillers without a valid certificate from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Her license to practice medicine is currently suspended and she is free on bond.
As a doctor accused by the Justice Department of drug trafficking, I am unable to work, my reputation has been destroyed and I have found life difficult over the past year.
But when I find out what life is like for pain patients affected by the war on drugs, I find the strength to continue. I would like to share one patient’s story.
Bob went straight out of high school into the Air Force. He spent several years overseas based inJapan, got married and had three children. After leaving the service, Bob was asked to return to the Air Force as a flight control specialist. While working on an airplane cable, he fell fifteen feet off an airplane and fractured his back, making his injury one hundred percent service connected.
In the beginning, Bob was placed on a low strength pain medicine. But after 25 years his tolerance to medication built up and he was eventually taking 960 milligrams of OxyContin per day. He periodically tried to decrease the amount of medicine himself, but the pain always came back.
Bob started using the VA system for pain management. The VA switched his medication to methadone, which he remained on for years. Then in 2009 a new VA doctor evaluated Bob one time and cut him off from methadone cold turkey. VA policy now is not to treat pain with opiates because they fear addiction.
Bob came to my practice shaking in withdrawal and in excruciating pain – scoring 9 out of 10 on the pain scale. We restarted him on methadone. In his words, “I got my life back.”
Bob started classes and got an associate degree in Accounting and Business Management. He then completed a BA in Criminal Justice, and is currently working on his Masters in Education with the intent to teach.
The Cost of Pain Treatment
It has been a year since Bob lost me as his physician. He tried to get back into the VA system, but they wouldn’t see him. He went to a VA hospital in another state where they put him on suboxone, which did nothing for his pain. Bob finally ended up at a local pain clinic that costs him $200 per month, which takes a big chunk out of his monthly income of $1,000. This is in comparison to the $35 per month it cost Bob to see us.
Because of the cost of his pain management, Bob lost his home and lives in a one room efficiency apartment. He gave up his car because he couldn’t afford gas or insurance. He can only afford Ramen noodles for two meals per day and nothing else for ten days because he is out of money. He goes to a food pantry for outdated food. Bob’s five grandchildren can’t stay with him in his small apartment and because of the neighborhood he now lives in.
Bob says: “Even though the number of doctors that the Justice Department targets may be small, they have targeted the doctors that take care of the poor and needy. That has forced people to live in poverty. The action of the Justice Department seems to be an intentional target of poor people. This has destroyed people’s quality of life.”
Bob is just one of many patients affected by the government’s attack on me.
On May 25, 2012, I was indicted on 173 counts of drug trafficking, based on calling in legitimate prescriptions by a legitimate physician for legitimate patients with legitimate pain. I have pleaded not guilty and my trial is scheduled to begin November 5, 2012.
One of the stipulations at the pre-trial hearing was that I not practice medicine until the trial. For the last year my license was suspended because of these malicious charges. Now I have to wait another 6 months with no income. My home and office building have been put on protective order by the government so they can be confiscated if I am found guilty. By using the drug trafficking charges, they can treat legitimate physicians like they are Columbian drug lords.
Having been attacked twice now without cause for pain management, my goal in the future is to practice only alternative medicine and prolotherapy — and teach people how to heal from disease through seminars.
People must take responsibility for their health and learn healing themselves so they are not put in the position of having untreated pain or find the cost of treatment destroying their lives.
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