‘Pill Mill’ manslaughter case could impact Canadian response to opioid crisis

We are at the S-O-S stage of the fentanyl and opioid crisis. Predictably, our first response was to blame the addicts, throwing them in jail for as long as possible. Shockingly, the crisis didn’t go away. A wider net was cast. Prescribing doctors in the U.S. were next.

On Oct. 24, the New York Court of Appeal heard the appeal of Dr. Stan Li who was convicted of manslaughter times two in the overdose deaths of two patients.

Li’s story is a familiar one. The U.S. is increasingly prosecuting doctors for their role in the opioid crisis.

Ironically, fentanyl was synthesized in the 60s as a safer alternative to morphine. Its use was limited to cardiac anesthesia. A decision was made by someone with a malicious disposition generally reserved for villains in superhero movies that fentanyl should become accessible to the public.

Soon, general practitioners started prescribing the drug to treat chronic pain. It slowly trickled into the streets, complementing many existing opioid addictions with a reduced price tag and more powerful effects. Currently, there is an explosion of the lethal drug in both the U.S. and Canada. We are well aware of the numbers of growing addicts, overdoses and deaths.

You may ask whether we will see the same prosecutorial response in Canada. Unlikely — for now. Both nations face the same crisis, yet our differences limit the Canadian response.

Why should you care about the Li appeal if Canada won’t prosecute doctors? Because it will shift our national response to the crisis. We are desperate. Canada, like many other counties, looks to the U.S. for guidance on what works.

The threat of prosecution could have a deterrent effect on doctors in Canada. If his appeal is dismissed and the conviction upheld, his case could be the catalyst that funds a Canadian Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. It could also impact coverage of the drug. Canadian insurance companies could amend, even eliminate, its coverage.

Fentanyl is like the embarrassing drunken text sent at 2:00 a.m. to your ex. It’s out there and there’s no pulling it back. All we can do is clean up damage and stop the bleeding. Our first response didn’t work. Li’s appeal could impact the next Canadian response.

Originally published in The Lawyer’s Daily October 29th, 2019: https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/16301/-pill-mill-manslaughter-case-could-impact-canadian-response-to-opioid-crisis-laurelly-dale?spotlight=1

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