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COMMENTARY
Dr. Harvey Jenkins
(WikiCommons)

It’s a debate that has raged since mankind lived in caves and one that remains a daily topic of current radio and television talk programs: What level of involvement should government have in the lives of its citizens?

For an opinion on the question, one might ask Dr. Harvey Jenkins, a Harvard-educated spine surgeon with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Jenkins currently finds himself trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare — one where the American dream and all for which it stands has kicked him in the head.

Jenkins has been in Oklahoma City for some 15 years, the last nine of which were spent practicing in pain management. On Jan. 26, 2015, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office (then under Scott Pruitt) raided his medical office. On March 24, 2016, Jenkins and his staff were charged with 29 felonies. While there are a multitude of charges, Oklahoma law enforcement has officially told the taxpayers that Jenkins was over-prescribing opioid pain medication.

As of the publishing of this post, however, the state has deemed it unnecessary to hold a full trial, though some charges were dismissed in March 2017 preliminary hearings and other charges received guilty pleas. Meanwhile, Jenkins has been unable to ply his trade for two years and 10 months. He is nearly homeless and lacks a vehicle. Friends drive him so that he can eat.

A brief history of prescription opioids

This opinion piece will not debate the merits of Harvey Jenkins’ case, evidence or lack thereof. It is instead about subjective, political and bullying law enforcement.

For many years, societies have struggled to balance the medicinal properties of opioids in treating pain with the euphoric effects that have induced its misuse — and abuse. There was a time when doctors would rarely, if ever, prescribe these drugs. Then, in January 1980, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter entitled Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics, which evidenced that, out of 11,882 hospitalized patients, only four abused the medicine.

These findings, along with increased marketing from the pharmaceutical companies who created Percocet and the like, opened the flood gates for opioids. Prescriptions were filled in record numbers.

Who’s at fault: doctors or Big Pharma?

There is no doubt that a problem with opioid abuse abounds. Oklahoma is opioid central. There are studies that rank the Sooner State the ninth worst in America. In 2012, more people died from opioid ingestion than from car crashes, and 128 painkiller prescriptions were dispensed per 100 people.

When politicians grab hold of these kinds of statistics, it seems their first impulse, the one that might keep them in favor with the voting public, is to find a guilty party. Blame somebody. Apparently, voters are more susceptible to spending resources on retribution than proactive measures such as remedy creation or treatment centers.

And here we go: This past spring, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter created a nine-member committee that will study, evaluate and make recommendations for changes to state policy, rules or statutes to address opioid abuse in Oklahoma. Hunter then joined a group of other state Attorneys General in suing over a dozen manufacturers of pain medicine. On June 30, the Tulsa World quoted Hunter as saying, “… [drug companies] need to be honest when they make representations to doctors about the effect of a drug. With opioids the doctors were lied to.”

So, wait: Are the doctors at fault, or big business?

Starving the innocent until proven guilty

It is a generally recognized tactic that government prosecutors try to starve those charged with a crime — the state’s resources are unlimited while the defendant pays debilitating legal fees for every course of action. The hope is that the accused will run so low on funds that they will start a settlement process, which, despite these questionable tactics, will represent a prosecutorial win.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jenkins is starving.

The state is either too incompetent, too politically desperate or too vituperative to give the physician his day in court. Until then, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, through both word and deed, have created a frightening scenario that leaves Dr. Harvey Jenkins guilty until proven innocent.

You can follow Dr. Jenkins on his Facebook page.

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Jim Buratti has a nearly 40-year career in media, mainly radio news and sports. He co-created and co-hosted TV's Discover Oklahoma for nearly 13 years. Now retired, Jim enjoys volunteering for a local food pantry and reading for the blind.