Alabama Physician, Victim Of Early OxyContin Hysteria, To Have License Reinstated

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A physician who was a victim of the hysteria over Oxycontin is getting his license back, the Gadsden Times reported June 16, 2004 ( "Herrera Could Be Reinstated Next Week"). According to the Times, "Gadsden physician Pascual Herrera Jr. could get his medical license back as soon as next week, according to a lawyer for the state Medical Licensure Commission that revoked his license three years ago. Medical Licensure Commission attorney Wayne Turner said Tuesday that the commission may have no choice but to reinstate Herrera's license that was revoked in 2001 during the OxyContin scare in Gadsden, a situation a state senator said he "probably" reacted to politically. The commission meets June 23 in Montgomery."

The Times reported that: 

"Montgomery County Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick on Monday ordered Herrera's license reinstated immediately. 

"Turner said the commission's options include asking Hardwick to reconsider. 

""If he doesn't do a stay he'll get it back for certain," Turner said of the license. 

"Turner said he disagreed with Hardwick's ruling that overturned the Medical Licensure Commission's decision to revoke Herrera's license for failing to perform adequate physicals and documentation on several patients. 

"Turner said Hardwick had no authority to substitute his judgment for the Medical Licensure Commission's judgment. But Hardwick in his ruling stressed that there was no substantial evidence presented to the commission to back up the license revocation."

The Times further reported that: 

"Herrera and his lawyer, Al Agricola, and a private doctors' group charged that the commission revoked Herrera's license during the OxyContin "hysteria" in Gadsden. 

"The physicians' group, the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, in a friend of the court brief in 2003, claimed that after three young adults from "prominent families" in Gadsden died of OxyContin overdoses, "the ensuing media furor pressured the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners to do something about drug diversion." 

""The Board found its scapegoat in Pascual Herrera, Jr., M.D., a graduate of a foreign medical school," the brief said, adding that television stations interviewed people who said they hoped Herrera would go to prison. 

"Turner said Herrera's Spanish heritage had nothing to do with the civil procedure that led to his license revocation as Herrera charged. "That's pure hogwash," he said."

The Times noted that: "No evidence was presented to the commission that Herrera prescribed OxyContin to any of the three dead youths, who were not named. 

"Hardwick said he expected, when presented with allegations that Herrera prescribed powerful pain killers to patients, that he would read traditional criminal evidence about selling drugs for profit. 

"Instead, Hardwick said, what he read was an academic debate by two experts, "one imminently more qualified than the other," whether it was appropriate for Herrera to prescribe controlled substances to three established patients he had been treating for years when neither of the two experts had examined them. 

"Hardwick said the licensure commission chose to believe the board's expert even though his credentials and qualifications in the area of pain management were inferior to those of Herrera's expert who testified by deposition. 

"State Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, sponsored legislation to create a controlled substance data base to prevent patients from doctor shopping and getting powerful pain killers like OxyContin they either take themselves or sell to others. 

"Means said he was disappointed in Hardwick's ruling.

According to the Times: 

"People lost their lives because of this ( OxyContin ) situation," Means said, adding that he "probably" had something to do with pushing officials to do something about the OxyContin scare after the three youths died of overdoses. 

"The State Board of Medical Examiners, which investigates and prosecutes doctor's cases, is headed by state Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery. The friend of the court brief quoted Dixon as saying that the board would "get" someone for the pushing of drugs. 

"Means added that he was not charging Herrera with illegally prescribing pain killers but added, "There was some reason he lost his license.""

For more about the Herrera case, you can check out this page on the AAPS website on Dr. Herrera's delicensure.