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Florida Pain Doctor's Appeal Denied by State Supreme Court

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The Florida Supreme Court recently declined to review the case of Sharon Johnston, a Naples doctor found guilty of criminally dispensing controlled substances, the Naples News reported June 8.  

Johnston was arrested in 2007 after three undercover agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) posed as patients complaining of back or neck pain and received prescriptions from the doctor for oxycodone, methadone, and other controlled substances. 

Johnston was later indicted by a federal grand jury for illegally dispensing pain medication, and in 2008 a federal jury in Florida found her guilty under the Controlled Substances Act on four counts of criminally dispensing controlled substances. She was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

At her federal trial, Johnston's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, argued that the undercover agents manipulated Johnston by inaccurately filling out the patient-information forms on which she relied. He also said the government's case was flawed because an audio recorder the agents used to record their office visits was turned on and off a dozen times.

The state's highest court rejected the appeal without comment.

Laura Cooper, an attorney for the Pain Relief Network, said that the federal government overstepped the state's constitutional right to regulate the practice of medicine when the judge instructed the jury to apply a “national medical standard.” Because states have control over the practice of medicine, they know best to apply standards of care within the state, Cooper argued.

What the federal government should have done, Cooper said, is allowed the State Board of Medicine to decide the matter and sanction Johnson if necessary. Cooper said that the Supreme Court's decision will make it more difficult for pain patients to get treatment. 

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