Everyone Is a Suspect
The dentist we have used for the six years we've been in Erie, Pennsylvania, had his office descended upon by a legion of law enforcement officers a couple days ago, as televised by an on-scene news reporter. The guy is licensed not just as a dentist but also an anesthesiologist for sleep dentistry methods, so he has a lot of training and degrees. I've had conversations with him over the years about his family and his recreational flying as a private pilot. He has been charged with writing prescriptions for a powerful pain-killing narcotic, ostensibly for use on patients, but using them on himself instead. If that is the case, versus selling the drug, then I am inclined to have some sympathy, albeit with qualification.
It is never really OK, in my opinion, to break the law except in the case of a dire emergency. An example would be using a concealed firearm to prevent imminent harm to or death of innocent bystanders when you're not legally supposed to be carrying in that place. Even then, some minimal degree of punishment is due out of principal, but the mitigating circumstances would justify leniency. In the case of my [now former] dentist, I know from the aforementioned conversations that he sustained a severe back injury a few years ago due to slipping on ice that caused/causes severe pain. On the one hand I understand how someone with the access to prescription pain killers would succumb to temptation to utilize them 'off the record' in order to sustain everyday activities, including a busy medical practice. On the other hand, my sympathy is moderated by the possibility that the reason for using those drugs in the manner charged was because doing so legally might have been cause for a suspension of a license to practice medicine until such time as the limitation was removed. That being the case, hypothetically, patients could have been placed in danger.
In fact, and I might be opening myself up for deposition by publically writing this, but in the earlier part of the year Melanie and I noticed during two closely spaced appointments that he was quite out of character in that there was noticeably heavy perspiration and unsteady hands. That had never before been the case. We both remarked afterward that we were glad it was just for a routine checkup and not to have any dental work performed. My first thought, not being a doctor or ever playing one on TV, was either a nasty flu or even something as serious as angina pain. Regardless of the cause, such a qualified medical professional should have been able to self-diagnose at least for having the good sense not to treat patients while thusly inhibited. Well, half a year passed and when calling the office to inquire about our scheduled checkup appointments I was told that doctor had suffered a heart attack in the early summer and was recovering, so we were re-scheduled to see a visiting dentist.
I truly feel sorry for the guy for having risked losing his entire life's work and his family's reputation (a local boy) for no good reason, and I wish him well in recovery. However, it is the aspect of potentially putting patients at risk, if that was the case (a disclaimer for vulture lawyers), that mandates some form of legal prosecution.
I've always held that none of us really knows what we'll do in an unplanned, unrehearsed dire circumstance. Having dealt very recently myself with prolonged, excruciating pain from a back injury, it is easy to see how desperation can cause you to take desperate measures (I didn't, for the record). Just be sure never to place innocents in danger to save yourself.
Posted November 13, 2013