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When Raids Remove Vocal Proponents of Patients’ Rights

Jay K Joshi, MD MBA writes about the raid of addiction specialist Dr. Ralph Thomas Reach, and the consequences that this raid has on the community.

June 18, 2024

In the ongoing battle against the opioid crisis, one would think that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would be supportive of physicians who are on the front lines, trying to help those struggling with substance use disorder.

Unfortunately, the case of Dr. Ralph Thomas Reach paints a different picture.

Dr. Reach, a respected addiction medicine physician, was providing much-needed medication-assisted treatment to individuals with opioid use disorder using buprenorphine.

This treatment has been proven to be effective in helping people overcome their addiction and reduce the risk of overdose deaths.

However, despite Congress ordering the DEA to remove barriers to prescribing buprenorphine, Dr. Reach’s clinic was raided and shut down by the DEA.

 

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Sending a Chilling Message

This action not only deprived Dr. Reach’s patients of much-needed care but also sent a chilling message to other physicians who may have been considering treating patients with substance use disorder.

The stigma and fear surrounding addiction treatment have only been heightened by the DEA’s actions, making it harder for those in need to access the help they require.

The DEA’s actions in this case highlight a fundamental misunderstanding of harm reduction principles and the importance of treating substance use disorder as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.

By targeting physicians like Dr. Reach, who are dedicated to providing evidence-based care to those in need, the DEA is perpetuating harmful stigmas and barriers to treatment.

 

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Exacerbating the Crisis

The 2018 DEA raid effectively removed an adept and innovative addiction specialist from serving a region already plagued by high overdose death rates.

Such law enforcement actions have targeted thousands of doctors committed to alleviating patient suffering.

Consequently, these aggressive DEA tactics have exacerbated the crisis by fueling demand for narcotics like fentanyl and driving up overdose mortality rates.

In a departure from standard procedure—which typically includes advance notice of charges and an opportunity for a hearing before the Board of Medical Examiners—Dr. Reach’s medical license in Tennessee was revoked under a newly enacted state law that likely contravenes constitutional principles. This law prevents the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners from assessing Dr. Reach’s qualifications to continue practicing medicine.

 

“By targeting physicians like Dr. Reach, who are dedicated to providing evidence-based care to those in need, the DEA is perpetuating harmful stigmas and barriers to treatment.” – Jay K Joshi, MD MBA

 

Faced with prohibitive legal costs necessary to challenge this potentially unconstitutional statute, coupled with his dire financial situation and legitimate apprehension about lengthy incarceration, Dr. Reach opted to plead guilty.

This is particularly devastating, as Dr. Reach is uniquely suited and competent to treat patients with substance use dependency.

Dr. Reach not only understands how to treat this condition, but he is also a long-term recovery advocate for individuals with substance use disorders.

With over two decades of experience as an emergency physician in Appalachia—an epicenter of the Oxycontin and opioid crisis—he too became ensnared by this affliction.

Moreover, for more than 19 years, he has been an active member of the recovery community.

 

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A Vocal Proponent

Even before the DEA began targeting him, he was a vocal proponent for patients’ rights, evidence-based medication-assisted therapy, expanded treatment access, enforcement of parity laws, and criminal justice reform for those affected by addiction.

He served on the Legislative Committee of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and am a Past President of the Tennessee Society of Addiction Medicine.

These are the type of physicians the DEA targets. And it must stop.

It is essential that we shift our focus towards supporting and empowering healthcare providers who are working to combat the opioid crisis, rather than undermining their efforts.

Only by embracing harm reduction principles and destigmatizing addiction treatment can we truly make progress in addressing this public health crisis.

 

(You can watch, or listen to, Dr. Reach in an episode with Dr. Jay Joshi, in our new SERIES Stigmatized. Episode can be watched, or listened to, here. Subscribe here and receive our latest articles and episodes, right at your inbox)

Jay K Joshi MD, MBA

Jay K Joshi MD, MBA

Physician entrepreneur who founded Daily Remedy, Output Medical, and Prestige 2.0. He also wrote the best-seller, Burden of Pain, and is a subject matter expert on medical jurisprudence.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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