a murderer. Saying he ran "a
highly sophisticated drug-dealing operation," the California state
attorney's office alleged that Dr. Frank Fisher was responsible for up to
nine deaths in rural Shasta County. "The theory of their case is that I
flooded the community with obscene amounts of OxyContin," he said in a phone
interview. "I should have known that people would die."A judge didn't buy
it, and dismissed a slew of murder, manslaughter and fraud charges. One of
his supposed murder victims died when the car she was in crashed into a
tree. Another had stolen pills from one of Fisher's patients.
The doctor recently saw his half-decade criminal odyssey, which included
five months behind bars, come to a close when a jury exonerated him of eight
misdemeanor counts of Medi-Cal fraud, which amounted to about $150. He still
faces possible sanctions from the state medical board. His practice is in
ruins. Many of his former pain patients have seen their health drastically
Fisher seems a stark example of how doctors can unwittingly find
themselves ensnared in law enforcement's war on drugs when they are just
trying to treat their patients' pain. The psychological effect that the
legal system exerts on physicians has been dubbed the "Chilling Effect."
Doctors and drug warriors who think the syndrome is a myth would do well to
examine the Fisher debacle.
The 50-year-old doctor says that at the time of his bust, "Out of 3,000
patients in my practice, 46 of them were on OxyContin."
He says that numerous undercover cops posed as new patients and tried to
wrangle scripts for opiates from him. Each attempt failed. Yet California
Attorney General Bill Lockyer, just a month on the job when Fisher was
arrested, pressed forward and, in a classic grandstanding move, called a
press conference to boast that he was saving the rural community from a
scourge of highly addictive pain meds.
The Harvard-trained Fisher has a further theory as to why he was so
vigorously persecuted. "It comes down to money," he said. "I was taking care
of mostly poor people, and even though I was prescribing OxyContin to a
small number, it was still very expensive."