A reader alerted me to a news story that took place out on the peninsula right before Christmas:
Yellow crime-scene tape surrounded Dr. James Rotchford’s Olympic Pain and Addiction Services medical clinic in Port Townsend’s Uptown District on Tuesday morning, as city police officers assisted state and federal agents in executing a search warrant on the premises.
According to two other articles online, the raids were a result of an investigation by the State Attorney General’s office over Medicaid fraud. The Attorney General’s office provided no details on the warrants, which are sealed for 90 days.
Rotchford’s clinic specializes in treating pain patients and those with addictions to pain medications. Because of the risks of abuse from prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet, doctors like Rotchford are in a risky profession. Even doctors who’ve been cleared by medical organizations of any wrongdoing have found themselves guilty in a court of law, simply for not realizing that the folks they were prescribing to were supplying the black market. As a result, there are precious few doctors willing to go into this field of medicine. And the recent story of Siobhan Reynolds is a frightening indicator of how dangerous it can be merely to defend an accused doctor.
As of now, no charges have been filed against Rotchford and little else is known about why his clinic was raided. My understanding of Medicaid fraud implies that they believe that Rotchford was writing improper prescriptions that were then charged to Medicaid. Someone with some more knowledge of that charge can perhaps let me know if it could possibly mean something else. In the meantime, though, it doesn’t look like we’ll get to see anything related to the search warrant until March.
The difficulty in this issue comes from the balance we need to strike between the treatment of pain and the threat of addiction. Our federal government’s approach to this delicate topic hasn’t been very balanced. Keeping addictive pharmaceuticals under wraps is their only mandate, so there’s little consideration to chronic pain patients who suffer from the downstream effects of that mission.
This imbalance briefly came under scrutiny in December when Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin placed a hold on the nomination of Michele Leonhart to run the DEA. Kohl thought that the restrictions being imposed by the DEA on nursing home personnel were preventing adequate pain management. He lifted the hold after getting assurances from the Department of Justice that they’d work to rewrite the rules.
Reading through the comments on the Port Townsend-based articled I’ve linked, there are strong and conflicting opinions on Rotchford and his clinic, some positive, some negative. It’s not clear yet what’s going on here, but based on the history of the DEA’s conflict with pain doctors, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Rotchford targeted, nor should we be surprised if it turns out that he’s being targeted unfairly.