If you think you've faced tough times and challenges, you should talk to Dr. Frank Fisher about what he's been through.
I'm Not a Doctor: Physician Affairs Blog - Crash recalls one physician's pain from treating pain
I had the opportunity to do so when I sought his comments after learning of the death of Siobhan Reynolds, an advocate for patients suffering from pain and the physicians who treat them.
In February 1999, Fisher was arrested on charges of murder, fraud and conspiracy stemming from his writing oxycodone prescriptions for patients with chronic pain. Because he couldn't post his $15 million bail, he spent five months behind bars. To make matters worse, when he was released, the Harvard-educated physician had to move back in with his parents while fighting to clear his name.
Of the murder charges, two were quickly dismissed (one alleged “victim” was reportedly alive at the time of Fisher's arrest), while three others were reduced to manslaughter. Some four years later, the conspiracy and manslaughter charges were dismissed and, one year later, Fisher was acquitted of the fraud charge. In January 2005, the last related civil suits were dismissed. On Oct. 30, 2009, his probation period with the Medical Board of California ended. (Actually, the order to end it occurred on that day, but it became retroactively effective Sept. 8, 2009.)
“I lost 10 years of my career without any compensation,” Fisher said.
“It's never really over,” he added. “If you look up my name on the Medical Board of California website, I have a black mark on my record that will follow me for the rest of my career even though I was effectively exonerated.”
Reynolds, who founded the Pain Relief Network, died in a Dec. 24 single-engine plane crash in Ohio along with attorney Kevin Byers, who specialized in defending doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Byers was flying the plane, and the other passenger who died was his mother.
Fisher said Reynolds fought a good fight, though he wonders how much impact she had in reforming drug laws so that people with chronic pain can get treatment.
“By every measurement I can see, the situation is getting worse,” Fisher said. “She shined some light on the issue. But it appears the issue only got worse—not because she wasn't effective, but because it was a situation that wasn't amiable to correction.”
Fisher said he no longer prescribes opioid painkillers. And, if patients say they need them, “I have to tell them there's nothing I can do,” Fisher said, adding that, after he tells them his story, they understand why.
Fisher also acknowledges that studies have shown that a significant portion of legitimately prescribed painkillers are diverted to someone else. He said this leads to mistrust and works against the doctor-patient relationship.
“I'm enjoying what I'm doing now,” Fisher said of his Rio Dell, Calif.-based practice where he sees mostly “rural disadvantaged” patients. “It allows me to focus on patients and the practice of medicine without being a full-time investigator and suspicious of everyone.”
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter @MHARobeznieks.
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