As Tennessee tried to shed its image as a painkiller haven, busted doctors argued that they’d been caught on the wrong side of a shifting line. Addicted patients just crossed the border.
Ihsaan Al-Amin, who practiced in Chattanooga, was indicted in 2012 for distributing prescription narcotics. In court filings in the Eastern District of Tennessee, Al-Amin’s attorney argued that “the physicians practicing pain management medicine, until 2010, were being incorrectly educated thanks to big Pharma. Physicians were being told that opioids were the front line for pain treatment, and were not addictive.”
Nonetheless, Al-Amin, 65, pleaded guilty. He is appealing a sentence that ends in 2022.
Al-Amin wrote, in a letter from the Federal Correctional Institution Talladega, in Alabama, that a former federal prosecutor reviewed his clinic's practices and found that “my clinic was not a 'pill mill' and that we took care of our patients reasonably well. There are no deaths due to 'overdose' or 'mismanagement' associated with my clinic.”
That former prosecutor, attorney Jennifer Bolen, said it’s “OK [for law enforcement] to go after people when they’re bad, but we have to be really careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Investigators are “scaring the heck out of these [pain] specialists,” she said. “In Tennessee, doctors are dumping patients right and left."
Trucks with Tennessee plates have been reported at pain clinics and pharmacies from Georgia to Maryland.
The Liberty Wellness Center in Norcross, Ga., prescribed narcotics to nearly every patient, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration order. It served just 50 Georgia residents, but 687 from Tennessee, including 50 from the town of Rogersville, population 4,400.
The physician at the center, Samuel Mintlow, plea bargained to a misdemeanor, adulteration or misbranding of a drug. Sentenced to probation, his medical license was revoked in January. He could not be reached for comment.
In the Rogersville area, the criminal docket has doubled in a decade, said District Attorney Dan Armstrong. People break into houses just to search the medicine cabinets. "Almost every case we touch has a pill behind it,” he said.
The new defendants, he said, come from “a segment of society that wouldn’t touch marijuana or cocaine” but fell for the “legitimacy” of pills.
“I see a lot more physicians,” he noted, “who are willing to take a harder look at the pills they’re prescribing and who they’re prescribing to.”
Rich Lord: email@example.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter @richelord
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