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The DEA and Prescription Drug Death

The DEA is controversial mostly because the war on drugs is controversial, particularly among libertarians.  Very occasionally, DEA earns the heat it gets.  In one recent shocking case, it left a young man in a holding cell for five days without food, water or access to a toilet.  Fortunately he survived, and the DEA is going to take a fully justified hit. 

A story more typical of the DEA's work, though one much less publicized, concerns the takedown of a lethal pill mill of astounding size and greed.  When I was Counselor to the DEA Administrator (2003-2007), I thought the abuse of legal, prescription drugs was the biggest problem we were facing.  Many people need pain medication, and the huge majority of doctors prescribing it are perfectly legitimate. But it's a big money business, and thus occasionally attracts the venal.

MSNBC.COM has a story about one such operation.  The obliviousness of the people running it to basic human decency defies easy description.  The article begins:

The prescription painkiller business was booming in 2009, making millionaires of Chris and Jeff George, twin brothers who operated several pain clinics in South Florida. Unfortunately for them, their customers had a tendency to die, and not always in a subtle fashion.

In November of that year, three customers were on their way to a George brothers' clinic when the driver tried to weave her Toyota Camry through the lowered arms of a train crossing. The car was struck by commuter train going 79 mph. The driver and a passenger were ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. The third occupant died six months later.

An associate of the Georges who read about the accident in the paper called Chris George to break the news. "Did it say they were pain clinic people?" George asked.


South Florida -- and the Georges, in particular -- were the vanguard of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls an "epidemic" of oxycodone addiction and death -- one that had attacked America more suddenly than any drug has before.

In 2008, prescription painkiller overdoses killed 14,800 Americans. In 2009, when the George clinics were at their peak, opioid abuse propelled a ghastly rise in the number of drug-related deaths nationwide. That year, 37,485 Americans died from narcotics overdoses -- a figure that for the first time surpassed the number of deaths from car accidents.

It's a long article, but those skeptical of DEA's work might reconsider by the time they get to the end. 



I'm not sure I agree that DEA qua DEA deserves to take a hit for this. This appears to be an isolated incident. DEA should only take a hit if there is no real accountability for this incident.

From what I can tell, there is generally not much in the way of accountability in government.

The five-days-in-a-holding-cell was an isolated incident without doubt. It's past impossible to believe that it was intended; someone just completely blew it. That said, it's such a dreadful error -- potentially fatal -- that I can't say the publicity it got was unjustified.

It's hard to know how the DEA should react. You hate to fire someone for a non-bad-heart mental error, but, as you say, it is not acceptable for there to be no accountability for something like this.

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