In a move that is being hailed as a win in the battle against painkiller abuse, a federal grand jury in Brooklyn convicted Manhattan Dr. Martin Tesher of 10 counts of unlawful distribution of oxycodone without legitimate medical purpose to five patients, one of whom died as a result, two days after his last visit. The 82-year-old Tesher faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. From 2012 to 2017, Tesher distributed more than 14,000 oxycodone prescriptions, which generating over two million pills at a combined estimated value of $20 million. His conviction is being seen by many as a warning to physicians and other medical professionals who engage in similar practices.
A New Era of Accountability?
Convictions such as Tesher’s may be rare, but they are not unprecedented. Earlier this year, a doctor in South Florida, one of the birthing grounds of the United States painkiller abuse epidemic, was convicted of participation in a conspiracy to illegally dispense opioids and other drugs. These convictions come as federal crackdowns on “pill mills” and other medical incubators for opioid addiction all over the country.
Last month, the Justice Department announced that it was charging over 600 people, including physicians and other medical professionals, in a large-scale health care fraud and opioid crackdown lawsuit. This combined with the targeting of prescription drug manufacturers regarding their marketing practices in states like Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and others signals a new age of outside-the-box enforcement in this enormous public health crisis.
Are We Doing Enough?
While painkiller abuse is a global issue, it is an admittedly uniquely American problem. The United States consumes an overwhelming majority of the world’s supply of prescription opioids. A look at the factors on the demand-side that are driving this epidemic is also needed to identify alternative means of pain treatment. In 2016, opioids killed over 42,000 Americans and rendered thousands more addicted. Holding relevant stakeholders more accountable and seeking new means of safeguarding against abuse are two critical steps to reversing the course of this epidemic permanently. Another critical component is making treatment more available to users who have succumbed to addiction.