We hear plenty about celebrity overdoses and addictions to pain medication like Vicodin and Oxycontin in the news media, and with each high-profile death comes new calls for restrictions and investigations into the doctors who prescribe opioid analgesics. However, as Nick Gillespie explains for ReasonTV, those cases represent an outlier of pain management in the US. The bigger problem is not overdosing but underdosing, which leaves many Americans in severe chronic pain, including over 40% of seniors in nursing homes, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Why? The war on drugs has put doctors in fear of law enforcement, and that’s no irrational worry, as Dr. Frank Fisher explains in this video:

Pain specialists like Fisher and patients’ groups like the Pain Relief Network battle law enforcement officials who are forever on the lookout for “pill mills” and patients who misuse pain medicine. Fisher notes that the same medications so often associated with celebrity addiction are the same medications that combat pain most effectively.

Fisher has treated his patients with high doses of opioids-that is, until a swat team raided his clinic and threw him behind bars.

“They were trying to give me 256 years to life,” says Fisher who argues that fear of prosecution often prevents doctors from treating chronic pain patients effectively.

Fisher spent five months in jail and every cent he had (and then borrowed more) in his defense before the government finally dropped charges against him. It then took several years to get his medical license reinstated. At 56, Fisher has to start over “with a net worth of zero.” Not too many physicians will treat severe chronic pain aggressively when facing that kind of concerted effort by law enforcement to dictate treatment regimes to doctors.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed government intervention in pain medication. John Holowach also covered this topic in his documentary High: The True Tale of American Marijuana. John’s perspective mainly concerns marijuana prohibition, but he also tells the tale of Dr. Paul Heberle. Heberle also ran afoul of the DEA, ironically after taking on patients that the government sent him after charging another doctor for overprescribing pain meds to the same patients. A small clip of that can be seen here:

If you have not yet bought a copy of High, read my review here and consider getting a copy.