Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chronic-pain sufferer fights drug sentence

Orlando Sentinel

The Imprisoned accident victim says he needed narcotics to ease his suffering

TAMPA -(AP)- Supporters say Richard Paey was a wheelchair-bound man in constant, brutal pain who needed large amounts of prescription narcotics just to live a normal life.

Prosecutors say he sought way too many of those often-abused painkillers, and that makes him a criminal.

On Tuesday, as Paey's attorney tried to persuade the 2nd District Court of Appeal to throw out his 2004 drug-trafficking convictions and mandatory 25-year sentence, advocates for chronic-pain sufferers said the case illustrates flaws in the law and how people dependent on strong pain medication can get tangled up in the government's overzealous war on drugs.

"I don't think anybody ever thought the war on drugs was going to mean a war on pain patients and their doctors, but that is in fact what it has meant," said Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network, an advocacy group that is helping with Paey's appeal.

Paey is a 47-year-old former attorney and father of three who suffered a back injury in a 1985 car accident and since has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was left in a wheelchair and constant agony.

Nothing blunted the pain -- he has described it as feeling like his legs were on fire -- except strong narcotics such as Percocet and Vicodin, which he bought from pharmacies in numbers that got the attention of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Prosecutors said he was forging prescriptions and getting so many pills that he had to be selling them, even though investigators' two-month surveillance turned up nothing. Paey said that because doctors in Florida were reluctant to prescribe medication in the amounts he required, he got his former doctor in New Jersey to send him undated prescriptions he could fill here.

The doctor testified at trial that he had never authorized the number of the pills Paey bought, even though other evidence contradicted him. A jury convicted Paey, and the judge imposed the minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years.

Paey's wife, Linda, said her husband was offered plea deals that would have kept him out of prison. But he rejected them because he didn't think he had done anything wrong.

On Tuesday, his attorney, John P. Flannery, told the three-judge appellate panel that the 25-year mandatory sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. Further, Flannery said, the doctor lied on the witness stand, and the prosecutor knew it.

The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule.

by Mitch Stacy


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