Two of the defendants, their attorneys and a handful of friends and family conferred about what had just happened in Special Judge Donald Easter’s courtroom, and what was to come.
Dr. Harvey C. Jenkins, Jr. and his co-defendant Tashonda Dixon, had both been bound over for trial. The judge had modified or declined to bind-over the defendants on some of the charges, which was good news for Jenkins and Dixon.
But for them, the bad news was that they were both still facing the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison on a host of charges stemming from what prosecutors say was a pain management clinic being operated like a pill mill.
It took nearly two years to get to this point in the case — charges were first filed against Jenkins, Dixon, and four other employees of Jenkins in March 2016. And there’s little indication the case will be drawing to a close quickly.
Two of the individuals in the case have taken plea deals. But despite dwindling funds, Jenkins has fought the charges every step of the way, both in court and in the media.
As he walked down the hallway toward the courthouse elevators, Jenkins at first declined a request by The Frontier to speak about the case.
“I would, but my attorney would probably kill me,” he said.
But after a few minutes, he changed his mind.
“When you’re guilty, you hide and run. When you’re not guilty, nothing changes,” Jenkins said. “My story is ‘I’m here. They’ve done this to me.’”
The high-profile case against Jenkins is one of several in the past few years that have been brought against doctors in Oklahoma who are accused of recklessly or indifferently prescribing large amounts of pain pills to patients.
The pictures painted by the state of Jenkins and by Jenkins of himself are diametrically opposed.
Jenkins was the most prolific prescriber of opioid pain medications to Medicaid patients in the state in 2014, the last full year his Oklahoma City pain clinic was open, according to data from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. During that year, the state Medicaid program paid for more than 5,300 claims for opioid prescriptions by Jenkins, with a total cost of more than $420,000, the data shows.
Burl Beasley, assistant director of pharmacy operations at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said Jenkins’ opioid prescribing amounts and patterns threw up red flags for the Health Care Authority indicating that there may be an issue.
“He’s kind of the gold-standard for what you don’t want to do,” Beasley said. “That’s kind of the bar I measure (red flags in prescribing data) by, is his prescribing standards.”
|Paid Medicaid claims for opioid prescriptions
|All Prescription claims
|Medicaid members seen
|Jenkins Jr., Harvey C
|Bernard, Jean J
|Stripling, Margaret A
|Revelis, Andreas F
|Martucci, Martin L
|Nguyen, Lam D
|Salyer, Thomas W
|Salrin, Michael E
|Salguero, Hugo S
According to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Oklahoma Medical Board, Jenkins was allegedly operating his Oklahoma City pain management clinic like a pill mill — sometimes with more than 100 patients booked for a single day.
“At one point, we could see Dr. Jenkins was allegedly seeing up to 90 patients a day. That’s just not doable,” said Mykel Fry, chief of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. “The number of patients he had was in the thousands.”
Prosecutors allege there was evidence that Jenkins and clinic staff were billing Medicaid for services that were not rendered, prescribing opioid prescription medications without a need, failing to establish true doctor-patient relationships with patients and non-licensed staff writing prescriptions.
Jenkins, on the other hand, said he was providing the best medical services he could for his patients, and took numerous precautions to ensure patients were not abusing or diverting the drugs he prescribed.
“I have no regrets about the way I have served my pain management patients,” Jenkins said. “I’m disappointed in the Attorney General for this obvious attempt to essentially make something that isn’t is.”
The case, he says, is a witch-hunt and was brought against him both because the amount of money the state’s Medicaid program was being charged from his patients’ urine drug testing, medical services rendered and prescriptions written, and an effort by former Attorney General Scott Pruitt to score political points. Pruitt stepped down as Attorney General in late 2016 to serve as President Donald Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, but had been rumored to be eying a run for U.S. Senate or Governor.
“It looks good when they’ve brought down a drug kingpin,” Jenkins said. “I was chosen as that particular kingpin. Previous to that point, nobody knew me except for my patients and people on Facebook. I went from unknown practitioner of pain management to public enemy number one.”
Rather than the nefarious picture that has been painted of him by investigators, Jenkins said he lives a quiet, somewhat mundane life, referring to himself as a “nerd, a hermit.”
“I believe they understand I was not the drug dealer, ‘the Kingpin,’” Jenkins said. “Your average heroin dealer doesn’t get the news coverage I get or the kind of bond I had. They know this. If you follow me at home, you know I’m listening to Mariah Carey CDs and playing with my dogs and watching ‘Scandal.’ I’m not some sinister person. They deliberately wanted to make it as painful and torturous as possible.”
Throughout the case, Jenkins has engaged in both serious discussions, some light-hearted commentary and some gallows humor about the situation, which he said helps him deal with the stress. He also authored several books during after his license was suspended, including titles dealing with pain management practices, his experiences working for Uber and Lyft, and even some children’s books about the situation.
However, prosecutors say that Jenkins’ actions inflicted untold pain on others who became addicted or died from overdosing after being cut off their medications and helped to fuel the overdose epidemic in the state.
“I would say that operation was dangerous to our society,” Fry said.
There’s not an abundance of doctors specializing in pain management who see mostly Medicaid patients, Fry said. Though Jenkins may have been seeing patients that other doctors would not, that fact makes Jenkins’ alleged conduct all the more egregious, she said.
“It put him at a higher standard, because he knew what kind of patients he was getting,” Fry said. “These are the ones who had very difficult cases.”
Unlike other high-profile cases involving doctors who were criminally charged for alleged over-prescribing, such as those of Dr. William Valuck in Oklahoma City or doctors who worked at the Roland Pain Clinic, Jenkins said none of his patients died from overdoses of medications he had prescribed them.
“I had these policies. I documented every narcotics agreement that every patient assigned, screening the patients every 30 days to make sure they were compliant with the medication,” Jenkins said. “I am not aware of any overdose deaths that occurred under my care.”
Fry vehemently disagreed with Jenkins’ assessment.
“That’s a big fat lie,” Fry said. “We know of at least three deceased people who were his patients. One he fired and within days they overdosed on heroin. We couldn’t make that causal connection, but I’m telling you right now he lied to whoever he told that to.”
Though Fry declined to name the patients who had died shortly after being fired by Jenkins, she said they were former patients who were not prepared to be abruptly cut off from their medications.
“These drugs are so addictive that if you prescribe them without some type of counseling or therapy, the patient is going to get addicted, no question about it,” Fry said. “When you cut them off cold turkey, it’s not a huge leap to know what is going to happen to that patient.”
On Aug. 15, 2012, Edmond resident Janise Lopez, 58, had her final appointment with Dr. Jenkins.
Court records state that during that visit, Jenkins told Lopez that he could no longer see her as a patient, and Lopez, who was a Medicaid recipient, did not receive a prescription from Jenkins at that time.
Six days later, Lopez was in a hospital emergency room, according to court documents, though the reason why is not specified. During that emergency room visit, Lopez told the doctor that her pain management doctor, Jenkins, had “cut her off” after finding drugs in her urinalysis, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.
The emergency room doctor did not feel comfortable writing an opioid prescription for her, gave her an anti-inflammatory drug and sent her home, the affidavit states.
Six days later, on Aug. 27, 2012, a relative discovered Lopez’s lifeless body in her Edmond home.
The Edmond Police Department opened an investigation into Lopez’s death and found several types of prescription drugs in the home, including a prescription bottle with a date of July 18, 2012, on it and eight pills of Oxycodone/Acetaminophen within, prescribed by Jenkins.
Court records state that Lopez’s last two prescriptions were written by Jenkins. A subsequent report by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner states that Lopez died of “probable acute morphine toxicity.
Jenkins said he was right to have stopped seeing Lopez, since there were indications she may have not been compliant with the narcotics agreement she signed with him. She was no longer a patient when she died, he said.
“It shows she died of a morphine overdose, and I didn’t prescribe her that,” Jenkins said. “Whatever she died of, it’s not related to my care of her. I believe my terminating her was the proper thing to do if she was showing any behavior that these medications might have been dangerous for her.”
“I think it (Lopez’s death) was a square peg they were trying to put into a round hole to justify raiding my office,” Jenkins said.
On the same day Lopez died, Aug. 27, 2012, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office began investigating Jenkins and his Oklahoma City pain clinic, Aria Orthopedics, after a referral from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority for possible Medicaid fraud.
Though the investigation was opened on the same day as Lopez’s death, the timing was a coincidence, said Attorney General spokeswoman Terri Watkins.
“As we went through the investigation, it became apparent that Dr. Jenkins allegedly was not spending any kind of quality time with the patient,” Fry said. So the Attorney General’s Office partnered with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to send in undercover agents.
“That confirmed our suspicions,” Fry said.
About a year after the investigation began, the first undercover OBN agent entered the clinic under the guise of a new patient, according to court documents.
After entering the clinic, the agent, who was posing as a private-pay patient, was told by Oxley, who was working security in addition to helping with the front desk, that the first visit for private-pay patients was $550, and the agent gave and off-duty Oklahoma County reserve deputy working security at the clinic the money, court records state.
About an hour and a half after checking in, the agent was given a urine drug screen, the records state. The agent told Jenkins that he had been injured in a four-wheeler accident the year before and hadn’t had a pain prescription for the injury several months.
After a brief examination, Jenkins wrote the agent a prescription for a muscle relaxer and hydrocodone. The encounter with Jenkins lasted about three minutes, investigators said.
About two weeks later, the agent went in for a follow-up appointment, paid a $250 fee and was given another urine screening test, the affidavit states. After waiting for about two hours, the agent had a 2-minute encounter with Jenkins, who wrote him a prescription for sleeping pills after the agent said he was having trouble sleeping, the court record states.
During the undercover agent’s third appointment in November 2013, he paid the $250 fee and was given a urine drug screening test before meeting with Jenkins, who told him that his previous drug screening had showed that the drugs he was being prescribed were not in his system. Jenkins did not write another prescription to the agent and told him to come back in four weeks.
In April 2014, a second undercover agent — this one posing as a Medicaid patient with a previous injury from a four-wheeler accident — entered the clinic. The waiting room was “overflowing with people waiting to see the doctor,” the affidavit states. Jenkins wrote that agent two prescriptions (one for an anti-inflammatory drug and the other an opioid pain medication) after a 6-minute visit and asked her to bring a copy of her MRI to her next appointment in two weeks.
During the agent’s next visit, Jenkins did not ask for a copy of the MRI and saw the agent for about 15 seconds before telling her to set up another appointment in two weeks, the affidavit states. At the third appointment, after submitting her $3 copay and undergoing a urine drug screen, the agent said a female employee called her back to an exam room, asked about her pain and confirmed what drugs she was being prescribed before handing her a prescription and telling her to set up another appointment.
Though the agent never saw Jenkins during that visit, the clinic billed Medicaid for a face-to-face doctor visit, investigators said.
During the agent’s fourth visit in June 2014, Jenkins saw her for about 30 seconds before writing her two new prescriptions, the affidavit states.
Neither agent had given Jenkins medical records from the doctors they said they had seen previously prior to being written prescriptions for opioids, and agents would later find relatively little paperwork was kept on the patients, the affidavit alleges.
As the undercover operation was going on, investigators with the Attorney General’s Office were also interviewing some of Jenkins’ former patients.
Two of those interviewed were Medicare and Medicaid recipients who were referred to Jenkins by another physician, court records state.
Both patients said that Jenkins did not perform a physical exam or and would just write them prescriptions, the court records state. During their last six visits neither patient said they saw Jenkins and a nurse would provide their prescriptions.
Eventually, both patients got a letter from Jenkins’ office “firing” them for violating their patient agreement with Jenkins, court records state. One of the patients went to the clinic and was told by the person working security that an earlier urine test showed there wasn’t enough hydrocodone in their system and accused the patient of stockpiling drugs, court records state. The conversation was at the front desk in front of other patients, investigators said.
Jenkins said his clinic regularly drug tested patients and made pill counts to make sure they were taking their medicine properly and to prevent diversion, that he strictly limited the amount of pills that were prescribed at a time, and that he intentionally set the price for private-pay at $550 for the first visit and $250 for follow-ups to take the profit out of selling any of the prescriptions if the patient did try to sell them.
“I was aware that pain management had to be performed very carefully to prevent addiction, to prevent overdoses, to prevent abuses,” Jenkins said. “I killed the profit margin, so there was no profit incentive to come see me to get pain medications. I deliberately chose that pricing structure to discourage that. You’d only lose money if you were selling your medications.”
“We were not a ‘hand over your cash get your pills at the register’ operation,” Jenkins said.
By early 2015 Jenkins’ clinic had been placed under physical surveillance by investigators.
On Jan. 20, an Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office investigator who was surveilling the clinic, stated they saw the security officer leave the clinic with what appeared to be several prescriptions in his hand. Jenkins had not yet arrived in the office (investigators would later be told he usually didn’t arrive until around 10:30 a.m., though the clinic opened at 9 a.m.). The security officer returned some time later and reentered the clinic with what appeared to be prescription forms, and a few minutes later (though Jenkins had not yet arrived), numerous patients began coming out of the clinic, the investigator said.
The security officer would later tell investigators that he would take prescription forms to Jenkins’ house for him to sign and then bring the signed prescriptions back to the clinic, where they would be distributed to patients, court records allege.
Less than a week later, on Jan. 26, 2015, the Attorney General’s Office executed a search warrant on Aria Orthopedics, seizing documents, patient records, closed circuit TV video, and other items.
Jenkins said he was on his way to the clinic that day when one of his staff members called him.
“A staff member called me and said ‘Jenkins, get here. There are some agents at the front door’ and she hung up the phone,” Jenkins said. “I thought this was a joke and I thought when I got to the office I was going to wring her neck.”
When he arrived, Jenkins said he was not allowed to enter, and he began calling attorneys.
Patients were also turned away at the clinic while the search warrant was being served, and investigators questioned several of the employees at the clinic, court documents state. Local and national media reported the search warrant execution.
Some employees who talked to investigators said they had seen pre-signed prescriptions around the office and had been directed to give them to patients during what were referred to as “nurse visits,” though none of the individuals giving the prescriptions were licensed nurses, investigators said.
The security officer was also interviewed by investigators, and told them he would sometimes take prescriptions to Jenkins’ house for him to sign if the doctor had not arrived yet and estimated the amount usually ranged from 10 to 15. Oxley also estimated the clinic was seeing between 60 to 70 patients per day during that time.
During the search, agents said they found 18 pre-signed blank prescriptions along with a large number of signed prescriptions that had previously been filled out, records state. In one room, investigators also found a red biohazard bag containing 787 “loose pills,” 506 of which were Schedule II prescriptions and 14 of which were Schedule IV prescription pills, in addition to 31 fentanyl patches, according to investigators.
“The storage room was not secured;” investigators wrote, “anyone could go into that storage area, including employees, patients, or minor children.”
However, Jenkins said, the pills in that red bag were in the process of being disposed of.
Often, he said, patients would bring in their unused pills, especially if their medication was being switched because of a reaction to it or if it was not working. When that would happen, staff members would empty the prescriptions bottles into a disposal bin containing the red biohazard bag, which would be picked up later by a medical waste disposal company.
When agents served the search warrant on the clinic, it had probably been around three months since the medical waste disposal company had emptied the clinic’s pharmaceutical waste, Jenkins said.
“That was disposal. We weren’t distributing those medications we weren’t redistributing them or anything,” Jenkins said. “If we were taking these pills away from patients and selling them, there wouldn’t have been any pills in there.”
After the search warrant was served, Jenkins said he tried to keep the clinic open by using paper records for patients.
But a few days later, on Feb. 5, 2015, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics suspended Jenkins’ OBN license, saying the clinic was being run like a “pill mill.” The Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision issued an immediate suspension of his medical license later that month.
Jenkins’ practice was finished.
After the search warrant, the Attorney General’s Office continued its investigation, checking patient records, video and other documents it has seized, as well as checking Medicaid claims submitted, and interviewing former patients and employees.
Some patients told investigators that they rarely saw Jenkins during their appointments, or that nurses would change their prescriptions if they expressed an issue with their medication, court filings show.
A doctor that had filled in for Jenkins while he was in the hospital for a few months in 2012 also said her signature had been used by some of the Jenkins’ staff to sign “Nursing notes” and other documents, though in some cases she was aware of it occurring, court records show.
One former employee said Brown had a thing in her desk she used to lay over a prescription pad and trace Jenkins’ signature, that Dixon and Brown would sometimes write prescriptions for patients and family members, and that the clinic would get 6 to 8 new patients a day and “fire” between 2 to 3 each day for violations, court records state.
“They, meaning the employees, knew the private patients were dirty, still collect their money, and fired them the following month after collecting cash for their visits,” investigators wrote in a probable cause affidavit. “They would know their UA was bad, but still have the private patient come back for their next visit just to collect their money. The UA results, positive or negative, were known at the time of the test.”
Jenkins said the clinic did perform two types of urine screening and that one could determine with some accuracy what drugs were in a person system. However, there were also false-positives and other technical issues with the tests, so the clinic often waited until the results of the second test came back as well to confirm the results, he said.
He also denied that employees ever forged his signature, though they would print off copies of prescription paperwork bearing his electronic signature.
Prosecutors said that after examining just 36 Medicaid patient records, there had been at least $17,678 in fraudulent Medicaid charges between January 2010 and January 2015. Jenkins also failed to establish a bona fide doctor-patient relationship with many of the patients, prescribed pain medicines unnecessarily, and billed for treatments that did not occur, according to one doctor who reviewed the records on behalf of investigators.
However, Jenkins said that the billing code that was used in those cases does not necessarily require a face-to-face meeting with the doctor, and that the state is interpreting the requirement too narrowly.
Jenkins’ admits he was a man with “two identities,” but neither was as nefarious as prosecutors allege, he said.
One was as a pain management doctor quietly serving mostly Medicaid patients on the southside of Oklahoma City.
The other was more colorful.
In addition to Aria Orthopedics, Jenkins co-owned a company called Body Trends with Dixon.
Body Trends was a medical spa with two locations — one in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa. The services offered included using lasers and other non-surgical methods to achieve body toning and slimming and improvement of skin problems for clients, in addition to other services like botox. Many of the clients Jenkins saw at Body Trends, which also had a salon and boutique, were involved in local, state and national beauty pageants, such as the Miss America or Miss Oklahoma contests, Jenkins said.
Speaking with Jenkins, it’s clear that he had a special affinity for his work at Body Trends and his work in the pageant scene. He was an editorial contributor for Pageantry Magazine, did work for many of the women who competed, and regularly attended many of the events.
“My seats were front row,” Jenkins said. “We actually grew into something we were very proud of. We were developing a national reputation.”
Jenkins said revenue from Body Trends was put back into the company to pay workers and provide services, and he sometimes provided free services to women entering pageants who could not afford the sometimes expensive treatments. Body Trends was also a major sponsor of pageants, such as the Miss Oklahoma pageant.
“This was not about money or me stockpiling money,” Jenkins said, “this was about helping people and doing something great with your life.”
But one witness told prosecutors that it may have been Jenkins’ dedication to Body Trends that contributed to the alleged problems at the pain clinic.
In the probable cause affidavit, investigators said that one employee, a part-time medical assistant, told them that “Jenkins loved Body Trends” and that she thought Jenkins would stay up late working on ads or making contact for Body Trends, causing him to be late to the clinic.
The employee told investigators that Jenkins would come into the Aria clinic about 10:30 a.m., the clinic would close from noon until 1:30 p.m. for lunch, and Jenkins would show back up around 2:30 p.m. and stay until the clinic closed at 5 p.m. There was talk at the office, the employee said, that the clinic would one day be in trouble because other people were doing Jenkins’ job there, the affidavit states.
Prosecutors allege that Body Trends was not self-sufficient, and that money generated by Aria would pay for expenses incurred by Body Trends.
“When Body Trends could not make payroll the money would come from Aria,” the affidavit states. “Body Trends did not make any money, the funds all came from Aria.”
The employee said she was part of conversations where another employee who handled financials for Body Trends allegedly said “Aria would have to start seeing more patients to be able to keep Body Trends open,” the affidavit states.
Jenkins denied that his work with Body Trends distracted him from his duties at Aria or affected his patient care in any way, and that he would often come in later than 9 because most patients’ paperwork and urine screens were still occurring during that time. In addition, he was still suffering health effects from his near-fatal bout with pneumonia, he said.
The employee who told investigators those things had said what they wanted to hear out of fear of being prosecuted, he said, and had no way of knowing what he was or wasn’t doing when not at the clinic.
However, once the Medical Board suspended Jenkins’ medical license, Body Trends was shuttered.
“Without having a medical license, as soon as that was taken away, that revenue stream was gone,” Jenkins said. “That business collapsed and all we had worked for.”
With both Aria Orthopedics and Body Trends closed, Jenkins had little money coming in, and mounting bills.
He had been fined $5,000 by the Oklahoma Medical Licensure Board and $36,000 by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in addition to his licenses being pulled. And, he owed the IRS $200,000 and the Oklahoma Tax Commission $80,000 for back taxes in 2014, 2013 and 2011, in addition to nearly three quarters of a million dollars in other debt, records show.
Jenkins was starting to run out of money.
He began driving for Uber and Lyft and got a job as an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City Community College teaching classes in general chemistry and anatomy.
However, it wasn’t enough. In February 2016 Jenkins filed for bankruptcy.
Financial records show that Jenkins went from making an average of $1.9 million each year in gross income to a little more than $27,000 by early 2016.
“I know what it’s like to have to sweat it when you can’t pay your electric bill and you’re afraid your power is going to be turned off,” Jenkins said. “I know what it’s like to have your heat turned off, I know what it’s like when you’re getting eviction threats because you don’t have the money yet for your apartment.”
In the year since the search warrant had been served Jenkins had lost his businesses, his medical license, his home, his car and his livelihood.
And then he was arrested.
On March 24, 2016, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office filed charges against Jenkins and five of his employees for their alleged roles in illegally distributing medications and Medicaid fraud.
Fry told The Oklahoman at the time of the arrest that Jenkins “is not a good doctor. He did not provide a good service to his patients.”
Then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a media release that Jenkins and his employees who were charged had one motivation — money.
“Most pain management doctors adhere to strict standards when caring for their patients, but Jenkins prescribed pills with the sole purpose of making money and illegally allowed his associates to do so as well,” Pruitt’s statement read. “They not only disregarded the law but endangered the health and safety of Oklahomans in doing so. Their dangerous endeavors make them no better than drug dealers with prescription pads.”
Jenkins’ bond was set at $500,000.
“There was no way I could make 10 percent of that amount with a bail bondsman,” he said. So he spent the next three weeks in a cell with two gang members, one accused of murder, Jenkins said.
“It was an interesting learning experience.”
Jenkins lost his job teaching at OCCC and was eventually let go by Uber and Lyft, though he said his ratings had been high.
Nearly two years later, the case against Jenkins and his co-defendants continues to slowly wind its way through the court system, which has put financial strain not only on Jenkins, but other defendants as well.
On Jan. 11, when Jenkins, Brown and Dixon were bound over for trial, the judge also entered an order allowing Dixon’s attorney to withdraw from the case. He said he hadn’t been paid by Dixon, who was advised to apply for a public defender.
“I’ve had that conversation with my attorney too,” Jenkins said. “They broke her. They broke her and her family. Almost everyone in her family is bankrupt now. That’s part of the strategy.”
Jenkins said the experience has been one in humility — one he didn’t want or need.
He has mostly survived from the financial and emotional support from his sister and his father.
“Every check this 80-year-old man sends his 53-year-old son says ‘Greatest Son in the World’ at the bottom,” Jenkins said, his voice shaking with emotion.
The experience has been a humbling one, Jenkins said, but one that has helped him pare away any non-essential motivations.
“My philosophy is I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. When I was a kid I wanted to climb every academic mountain and do everything to impress my mom and make my parents proud,” Jenkins said. “It’s not about climbing anymore mountains, not going to do medical school, not going to do your spine surgery fellowship at Harvard, it’s not about becoming an orthopedic surgeon. That’s not what the important thing in life is.”
Jenkins said he plans to fight the charges all the way to trial. He has no plans to plead guilty.
“They took away my profession, my career,” Jenkins said. “They took away my liberty for those three weeks, but they won’t take my life. I wouldn’t put it past them to try. But this won’t be the end of me no matter what happens.”
A Bigger Picture
Jenkins is, he said, a victim of a larger misguided and ineffective effort to respond to the opioid epidemic in terms of policy and enforcement. In addition to making it harder and more expensive for doctors to prescribe opioid pain medications, many doctors have become reluctant to prescribe opioid pain medications to patients who may need it for fear of being labeled or targeted, he said.
“The only way to solve the problem is to not outlaw all pain medicines for any reason. When you do that, what will happen is people will start jumping off of bridges. That is what is happening in Oklahoma now,” Jenkins said, adding that overdose rates have continued to climb despite new laws and policies governing opioid medications.
“You’re going to send people to the street for pain control,” Jenkins said. “In the state’s eyes, I was the drug kingpin, seeing a good number of the Medicaid population for pain management and you took me out of business and sent all of these people potentially to the street. I would not be surprised if some of my former patients who were not able to find care went in that direction. The state left them with no option.”
In recent years, the state has tightened restrictions on opioids and stepped up enforcement. Last year, Attorney General Mike Hunter brought a lawsuit against several opioid medication manufacturers alleging they misled doctors about the dangers of the medications through aggressive and deceptive marketing tactics. That case is still working its way through the court system, but a trial date has been set for May 28, 2019. Hunter also formed an opioid commission to research and make policy recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.
However, Fry said doctors currently have latitude on their prescription writing, and that the effort is not meant to discourage good doctors from doing the right thing for their patients, but to hold bad doctors accountable.
“I think other doctors are looking at it (the Jenkins case) very carefully and very closely,” Fry said. “I think it’s our responsibility to ensure the good doctors that’s not why we’re doing this. There are many many good physicians out there who are conscientious about their patients’ care and what’s really going on with their care. I think we need to assure those doctors that as long as you’re paying attention to your patient’s health … we believe you’re doing the right thing.”
And the goal is not to deny relief to people who suffer from chronic pain, Fry said.
“We’ve never disputed that people have pain. That’s a fact,” Fry said. “And we think they should get care for that. It’s the abuse of it that’s the problem.”
The increase in addictions to and misuse of opioids is one that all walks of society should be concerned with fixing, she said.
“It truly has societal implications as well as to the health of our citizens,” Fry said. “It highlights how important it is for everybody to be on guard for opioids, including our physicians, pharmacies, police officers, everybody.”