Amicus Filed in License Revocation Case

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In Gadsden, Alabama, three young adults from prominent families died of an OxyContin overdose. The ensuing media furor pressured the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners to do something about drug diversion. Larry Dixon, its Executive Director said: "It takes a doctor who is prone to writing large amounts of controlled substances, and it takes a `drug shopper.' You get those two together and you've got a good relationship until we get you" (AM News 6/25/01). Thus the Board is on the public record with a promise to "get" a physician based solely on the conduct of his patients, or even a patient's friends. The Board found its scapegoat in Pascual Herrera, Jr., M.D., a graduate of a foreign medical school. Television stations did interviews with people who said they hoped that Dr. Herrera would go to prison. Although Dr. Herrera did treat chronic pain and prescribed OxyContin for about 10% of his patients, none were injured by it while under his care, and he had no connection with the tragedies that were on everyone's mind during the hearing. He had also screened out 200 addicts from his practice. Testimony by his patients demonstrated care that was adequate, even exemplary. Nonetheless, Dr. Herrera's license was revoked on pretexts that included sloppy handwriting. "That rationale, if affirmed, would support the revocation of the licenses of hundreds of thousands of physicians, and quite a few attorneys as well.... In fact, the handwriting of the Board's own expert was no more legible than Dr. Herrera's," wrote AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly. The Board failed to articulate with specificity any offense that Dr. Herrera allegedly committed, and there was no proof of harm to any patient. AAPS as amicus urged the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama, (CV-01-2232-H) to reverse the order of revocation. Not only do such cases represent a miscarriage of justice, but they have a chilling effect on the practice of all physicians, whose careers could be ruined in order to mollify the public.