Loni Coombs - www.lonicoombs.com
 
FINDING GRATITUDE
November 26th, 2012

As part of our Thanksgiving time with the kids, we were able to go to a live taping of The Voice, a television show that showcases amazingly talented singers. For a music lover like me, it was heaven! The show that we attended was spectacular—in my opinion, not one singer had a weak performance. One of the most electrifying numbers of the evening was “Over You”, sung by Cassadee Pope. She looked like an angel in a flowing white gown, and she sang the powerful lyrics with grace and emotion. By the time she was finished, I had tears running down my cheeks.

I knew that “Over You” had been written by Blake Shelton and his wife Miranda Lambert in honor of Blake’s brother who had been killed in a car accident. I had just read about the song winning a CMA award. But it wasn’t until I stood there, spellbound by Cassadee’s performance, that the personal nature of the song hit home to me. My father passed away seven years ago on March 23rd, 2005. It was so sudden, so unexpected. My parents had recently moved out of state, so for several months I pretended that he was still alive, just living out of state. But then Thanksgiving came, and he wasn’t there at our usual celebration. And at Christmastime he was painfully absent. The shock, grief, and sadness finally hit full throttle.
It is interesting to see which memories end up being the most significant. I remember all the little phrases he loved to say, “We’re off like a dirty shirt!”, “Don’t take any wooden nickels”, “What is your integrity worth?” The last photo I have of me and my dad was snapped in my kitchen, that last Christmas together. We are doing the dishes together, and dad is making a silly face as he always did for pictures. It drove everybody crazy, but he wouldn’t stop doing it. Now, this candid shot is my favorite picture of us. I see it and I remember how he would come to my house every Christmas, bringing his slippers to wear because it wasn’t quite warm enough, and how he would quietly grouse about the never ending Christmas music.

I wish I had more time with him. So often when I am experiencing something new and wonderful, I long to be able to share it with him. I regret not spending more time with him learning and listening. But I am so grateful for the short time I was blessed to share with him here on earth. I am grateful for the way that his strong character helped me to shape mine. And I am thankful for all the Thanksgivings and Christmases that I did have with him. Since my father’s passing, I take less for granted, because I now realize it all may end tomorrow. Just one more great life lesson he has taught me.



School Bus Bullies
June 28th, 2012

How did you react when you saw the video of bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied by a group of 12- and 13-year-old schoolboys? Did it shock you? Did your disgust make you nauseous? Did you want to personally throttle each one of the little punks?

The level of profane debasement and crass insensitivity revealed in this video showed a frightening lack of humanity in these boys. Honestly, I have a tendency to use lots of adjectives when describing things, and yet I sit here, struggling at the keyboard to find the words adequate to convey the behavior on this video.

These boys attack Ms. Klein’s appearance by calling her “fat”, “fat ass”, “sweaty”, a “troll”, “ugly”, “old”, and they describe her bra size as “triple sag”. But apparently these insults aren’t cutting enough. They unleash sexually violent accusations about her raping kids, having herpes, and what might happen if they stabbed her. They physically harass her, flicking her hearing aid and poking her arm with a yearbook.

Ms. Klein attempts to calm the boys down with the old adage that we have all heard or used at one time or another, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That one doesn’t even put a dent in the onslaught. As you watch her benign reaction, you start to think maybe she is just tuning the boys out. But then you see Ms. Klein attempt to distract the boys, showing an interest in the yearbook, trying to play along with humor, even at one point expressing her exhaustion over having to deal with them all year long. None of her approaches dissuade their attack.

Many observers have described this situation as a “Lord of the Flies” scenario, with the peer pressure, mob mentality motivating the vulgarity. Sure, that “group effort” obviously gave the boys an added thrill, trying to “one up” each other. But let’s not forget—the victim here is a 68-year-old grandmother. A grandmother! Who, even as the bullies start to make fun of her purse, points out to them the words printed on it, telling them that she tries to live by the inspirational mottos, expect miracles, live with integrity, even be remarkable, to which one of the boys smirks that the victim is remarkable by taking up a whole seat.

Just when you think you couldn’t cringe anymore, one of the boys goes for the bottom of the barrel by making a painful insinuation about Ms. Klein’s son, who apparently committed suicide.

Forget, for just a moment, the old-fashioned tenants of respect for one’s elders and basic good manners. What has happened to our society’s capacity for sensitivity towards another human being? Have we inundated our children with so many video game murders, violent movies, and jackass pranks that all the empathy has been sucked from their psyches?

One bright spot from all of this is the outpouring of support, including financial contributions, for Ms. Klein. Seeing these bullies up close and personal via video has struck a chord in millions of people. Let’s hope that we can turn our outrage into the courage to do something about it.



Attempting to Inspire Leads to Being Inspired
May 22nd, 2012

Have you ever given a commencement speech? No? Neither had I. Until now, that is. When the University of La Verne College of Law asked me to be the commencement speaker at their graduation ceremony, the thrill and honor barely had time to register before I starting worrying about what in the world I was going to say. Commencement speeches are an interesting animal—carefully crafted words that must entertain, celebrate, and inspire to greater things all in fifteen minutes or less. Anything longer, and the graduates start stirring, ready to let loose with that joy of having completed three years of their noses to the grindstone.

In preparation, I read popular commencement speeches, like those given by Oprah and Steve Jobs. I determined that a good speech needs to come from your heart, your own personal experiences, and a sincere desire to give these graduates something meaningful for their journey ahead. Reaching back into the memory banks for the emotions and aspirations I felt on the day of my own law school graduation, I endeavored to share with these new Doctors of Law the perspective and insight I’ve gathered over the past twenty-four years that I’ve spent as a lawyer.

I think that the most you can hope for, as a commencement speaker is to say something that will get the listener to pause for a moment, amidst all the excitement, and consider what their future holds. If you are lucky, that thought will land deep enough in their subconscious that perhaps it will surface again at a later time and stimulate further contemplation. The inspirational characteristics and values espoused in graduation speeches reflect the highest standards we aim for as human beings, and if you Google “commencement speeches”, you will see the same words over and over—integrity, humility, compassion, passion, commitment, generosity… all worthy ideals for us to desire.

But I decided that for my speech, rather than pick my own favorite values to talk about, I would challenge the graduates to consider what three words they would want to see describing themselves in their obituaries at the end of their life. What personality traits do they personally hold in the highest esteem? Take a moment now, at this significant milestone in your life, to actually decide whom you want to be at the end of it all, and then commit to being that person now. Don’t just flow along your merry way and end up somewhere by default. Choose your own best obituary, and start earning it today.

As I gave my speech, I could feel the excitement and pride of the graduates and their family and friends. What a happy day! The burden and urgency I felt for conveying something of substance during this significant event subsided as I shared in their elation.

Afterwards, I was invited to join the graduates and their supporters at an informal fete out on the lawn. As the former students, friends, and proud parents came up to thank me for my comments, they began to share with me their own stories of struggles and trials that they had overcome to get to where they were standing. One young man had been in the army and served two tours in Iraq. On his last tour, he had been hit by an IUD. It took 18 surgeries to put him back together. And today, eight years later, he had walked across the dais to receive his Juris Doctorate diploma.

Another young man, with an entourage of family members, had already earned a degree in engineering. He had worked full time as an engineer to put himself through law school. His family had immigrated here, committing to do more than just appreciate this country. Each person had sacrificed and pushed to excel and achieve in their given field. The parents were both doctors. The brother was traveling around the world with different educational programs. Even the revered grandmother, who appeared to be in her nineties, had gone back to school to get her doctorate degree.

As each story unfolded, I was inspired again and again at the amazing examples of drive and focus. These were not kids who were attending school on mommy and daddy’s dime, marking time in a classroom to extend that coddled child stage a bit longer. These graduates were survivors, many the first in their families to earn a college degree, much less a law degree. Many had worked more than one job to pay for this educational opportunity. And the satisfaction and contentment that comes from such hard-won success reflected brightly in each one of their faces.

I walked away feeling honored at having been in their presence. During such an economically challenged time in our country, these young people are truly inspiring to me. They aren’t sitting around on the couch, waiting for things to get better or for someone to hand them something. They are confronting the uncertain future head on, doing whatever it takes to be prepared and productive.

To all the 2012 graduates of the University of La Verne School of Law, my sincerest congratulations and best wishes.




Why the End to Cyber Bullying Must Start with the Grown Ups
November 2nd, 2010

There has been quite a media spotlight in recent weeks on the devastating realities of widespread cyber bullying. One after another, young people have committed suicide after being targeted by cyber bullies. Their deaths have rightfully shocked us into collective action. Discussions are being had. Campaigns to educate teenagers and young adults are being developed. Procedures and policies for teachers are being introduced. Such wonderful and necessary responses to this critical social issue are encouraging and inspiring.

And then we hear about someone like Clint McCance, a member of the Midland High School Board in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas. Students were organizing a campaign to wear purple on October 20th as a show of solidarity after several youths had killed themselves, reportedly because of bullying over their sexual orientation. Mr. McCance’s chose to share his feelings about this on Facebook, posting, “They want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide.”

When a fellow Facebooker commented, “Because hatred is always right”, McCance unleashed further, writing in part, “It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you aren’t against it, you might as well be for it.”

Now, please don’t waste my time telling me that Mr. McCance has a first amendment right to voice his opinion. I’m a lawyer. I love and respect our Constitution and can articulate a vociferous defense of it as well as the next attorney. But come on! Just because we can express hate speech doesn’t mean we should. As a grown up, entrusted with a position of authority over the education of our future leaders, Mr. McCance’s ridicule of such a serious problem is unfathomable. Encouraging the suicide of children, in any context, is unjustifiable.

Pleasant Plains did respond to McCance’s Facebook post. About 30 protesters rallied to call for McCance’s resignation. Also in attendance were counterdemonstrators, waving Bibles and flags in support of McCance. Then a group on Facebook launched into action, and within a few days, had over 70,000 members calling for McCance’s resignation.

Today, the Midland School Board unanimously voted to accept McCance’s resignation. This was after McCance appeared on CNN to express shame and embarrassment for his posts. Anderson Cooper, the host of “AC360”, didn’t let him off the hook so quickly, questioning him further about the “pain and fear you have caused to kids maybe even in your own district who are being bullied or who are gay or who don’t feel safe telling anyone that they’re gay…”

If nothing else, this McCance incident just highlights how far we have come, and how far we have to go. Hate, discrimination, and bullying is still deeply entrenched in the viewpoints of many. And, as we can see from McCance, we would be foolish to assume cyber bullying originates solely within the younger generation. It starts with the grown ups. Whether or not they deserve to be called “grown up”.





When Leaving Your Abuser Isn’t Enough
October 25th, 2010

Could you imagine, after having endured countless verbal or physical attacks from an abusive partner, finally getting up the courage and strength to leave them, only to find out that the nightmare isn’t over? In fact, just the opposite—the violence is increasing and intensifying?

This very real and extremely dangerous phenomenon is called “Separation Assault”. Abusers, who perceive that their victim is getting away from them, become more determined and more aggressive to make sure that “if I can’t have them, no one will!”

I recently met a very courageous woman who has been struggling to, literally, survive this separation assault cycle. Sandy came to share her story with Dr. Phil in the hope that she could save even one other woman from the hell that she is now enduring. Her allegations of abuse are some of the most harrowing that I have heard in all my years of prosecuting domestic violence. But that isn’t Sandy’s whole story.

Here is the cruel, tragic twist. Sandy has a child with her alleged abuser. You may be wondering why that is so significant… This next sentence is extremely important for every woman to know. No matter how violently a man abuses the mother of his child, he still has legal parental rights to his child, protected by law, unless and until a court says otherwise. So, despite Sandy’s best efforts to cut ties with her abuser, she can’t disappear because of her child. If fact, if she did, she could be in trouble for violating his parental rights. Shocking, isn’t it?

Parental rights can be forcibly terminated, but it usually involves a difficult legal battle. Courts have traditionally ruled to preserve the parental rights, unless the parent is shown to be incapable of taking care of the child due to substance abuse or mental illness, or is abusive or neglectful of the child. There is no specific ground to terminate the rights of a parent if they are abusing the child’s other parent.

Law enforcement and the courts have come a long way in prosecuting abusers and protecting victims. But there is still a long way to go. Awareness of the “separation assault” danger zone is crucial for any woman contemplating an escape from abuse.
More needs to be done to protect the children of parental abusers. Remember when OJ Simpson was held civilly liable for the death of his children’s mother? Even after the trial, he retained his parental rights. Some states have allowed evidence of domestic violence when determining custodial arrangements, finding that the child was “at risk of harm” even if they weren’t the actual victim of the violence. This logic needs to be expanded further, in the best interests of the children.

For anyone who is in an abusive relationship, or thinks they may be, or has a loved one who is, I highly recommend watching this Dr. Phil episode, which airs this Wednesday, October 27th. It could change your life. Maybe even save it.




Dad, Dr. Phil, and Drug Addiction
August 6th, 2012


I just spent the fifth year anniversary of my father’s passing taping a Dr. Phil show. That wasn’t how I had planned to observe the day. I had actually arranged to spend the day with my mother, helping at the Food Bank, having lunch, and visiting Dad’s graveside. But a few days before, I got an email from the Dr. Phil producers asking if I would be available for a show on prescription drug addictions. Before I responded to the email request, I called Mom. I told her about the invitation and the topic, but before I could get to the caveat of the calendar conflict, the phone line was erupting with her enthusiasm. What a fantastic topic! Such an important issue to discuss! So many lives being ruined, families being torn apart… Yes, I know Mom, it is a great topic, crucial and timely, but the taping is on Dad’s anniversary. Perfect! What a coincidence! This is important! That is exactly where you should be…

Mom was referring to the heart of Dad’s life work. Dad had earned his PhD in Sociology back in the 60’s, and then nestled in happily at UCLA as a publishing professor. He was there until the day he died, researching, writing, and teaching. He authored or edited 20 books and more than 100 articles. When I was about eight, I remember seeing a big, thick blue book on my dad’s desk. Practicing my rudimentary reading skills, I sounded out the title, “Hu-man Sex-u-al-ity”. What??? MOM!!! There is a book in our house that says “S-E-X”!!! Of course, I had been so shocked at my discovery, I hadn’t taken the time to read who the author was—a name I would have easily read.

That was my first exposure to the intriguing topics Dad would address throughout his career. Drug abuse was a primary focus. The social hierarchy amongst drug dealers, how to raise drug free kids, the stages of addiction, drug-addicted professionals—Dad wrote about it all. He talked a lot about the newest form of addiction, perhaps the most insidious of all, prescription drugs. Unlike the cocaine, heroin, or meth user, who, from the very first snort, puff, or injection, knowingly commits an illegal act, the prescription drug addict usually starts their downward spiral based on the innocuous recommendation of a medical doctor, one of the most respected figures in our society. Upstanding, productive, honorable people, who would never in a million years consider breaking the law, eventually find themselves doing whatever it takes to get their next fix. I have loved ones whose lives have been turned upside down by this burgeoning phenomenon. No one is impervious. Not even Dad.

About the time I was preparing to leave for college, my father was in a really bad car accident. Driving home one night on the congested 405 free way, Dad was rear ended by a driver who kept hitting the gas pedal, thinking it was the brake. Dad suffered severe whiplash, which the doctors said had injured his brain stem. The result was intense headaches and memory loss, a potential career-ender for him. Dad was in great pain and burdened with the anxiety of how he was going to support a family of nine if his brain didn’t heal. His doctor prescribed a new medication, the latest darling of the medical community. Zanax, it was called. With all of Dad’s knowledge, and being the medicine-adverse person he was, Dad probed the doctor to make sure the pills weren’t addicting. The doctor assured him emphatically that they were not. So Dad took them.

I don’t know all the details. I had no clue during the actual time. Many years later, Dad shared his experience with me, describing how shocked and angry he was when he realized he had become dependant on the medication. He immediately went cold turkey-- very dangerous and not the recommended solution. The withdrawal was so severe, Dad sought help from a holistic practitioner who helped him wean himself off the medication in a safe manner. Dad told me it was the hardest thing he ever did. But I believe it gave him lifelong insight and empathy, making him much more effective in helping people than all of his research and writing combined.

And so, I taped the Dr. Phil show. And I’m very glad I did. Not just because I always love to work with Dr. Phil and his tireless producers, but also because it was a good show, with open and honest guests like Kelly Osborn and Jeremy Jackson, who shared their personal experiences with blunt candor. One of the best ways to confront this mounting societal crisis, Dad would always say, is to break the secret. People need to know they aren’t alone, and that there is a way out.

As for the legal aspects of this societal problem, law enforcement is gaining momentum in its efforts to regulate the illegal activities that addicts resort to in order to maintain their addiction. The first step for law enforcement is to educate the public as to what is illegal. Using someone else’s prescription medication is illegal. Doctor-shopping to get multiple prescriptions is illegal. Using an online pharmacy that does not require a legitimate doctor’s evaluation is illegal.

Too often people make the faulty assumption that prescription drugs must be “safe” because they came from a doctor. How many of us have had a few pills left over in a prescription bottle and, without a second thought, given them to a spouse, a friend, or even a child who was in pain? But remember—prescription drugs are no less potent than illegal street drugs. The main difference is that federal agencies have determined that, for some drugs, their benefits outweigh the detriments. Those drugs are deem “legal”, to be disseminated under restricted, controlled circumstances. And the gatekeepers to these restricted drugs are the doctors. That is why it is crucial that prescription drugs only be taken pursuant to a qualified doctor’s order for a specific patient.

Which leads us to a groundbreaking area of law that I discussed on the Dr. Phil show-- holding doctors criminally liable for over-prescribing drugs to their patients. The criminal laws used to prosecute doctors aren’t new, charges like unlawful prescribing of controlled substances, and manslaughter. But society has been reluctant to pull doctors off their pedestals and subject them to the possibility of prison for questionable patient care. In years past, regulating doctor’s performances has primarily been left to the doctors themselves, through Medical Licensing board reviews.

However, the recent rash of celebrity deaths caused, at least in part, by questionable prescription drug use, has revealed the need for stricter oversight. This issue has lurked in the shadows as far back as the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Elvis Presley. Now, with the deaths of Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, and Corey Haim, society is becoming more educated and sophisticated about the deadly consequences of overusing, or improperly mixing prescription drugs. Prosecutors are now filing criminal cases against doctors, and I believe that juries are going to say enough is enough, time for some accountability. How many more people must die before we take a stand?

So here is the good news. Action is being taken. Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum four-year state prison sentence. And before you say there is no way he will be convicted, let me tell you, it shouldn’t be that hard for the prosecution to meet its legal burden. For an involuntary manslaughter charge, there is NO requirement for either an intent to kill or malice. Rather, the prosecution must prove to a jury that Murray knew or should have known that his actions were reckless and that a reasonable doctor would not have done what Murray did.

Murray himself allegedly told investigators that he administered Propofol to Jackson in an IV drip at his home just hours before his death. A few facts about Propofol: it is a heavy sedative intended for use by anesthesiologists in hospital settings to render patients unconscious before surgery; the common practice for administering a Propofol IV drip includes constant, continued monitoring of the patient with an EKG and a pulse oximeter device, which determines the level of oxygen saturation in the patient’s blood and sounds an alarm if the patient’s breathing slows to dangerous levels. Not only did Murray not use an EKG or pulse oximeter the night of Jackson’s death, Murray allegedly left Jackson alone after giving him the IV drip.

The difficulty for the Prosecution in this case, and in other cases like it, isn’t going to be proving the legal elements. I think that a jury could easily decide that giving someone an IV drip of such a powerful anesthesia to someone at home, like a glass of warm milk, to help them with insomnia, is reckless medical treatment. The big question is whether or not our society, aka the jury, is ready to criminalize certain medical treatments. Doctors are revered in our communities. We respect them and trust them. The defense will argue that accidents happen, that this was a terrible tragedy, and that Murray was doing the best he could to care for Jackson's well-being and treat his insomnia problem. The defense will say that making this into a crime will be setting a dangerous precedent. I say it is a precedent we need to send a message to the medical community that we will no longer turn a blind eye to reckless treatment. And maybe this deterrence will save some lives.

Remember the strange circumstances surrounding Anna Nicole Smith’s death? Legal action is being taken this case also. Howard Stern, Smith’s attorney/companion, and two physicians, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich and Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, have all been ordered to stand trial on multiple felony charges, including conspiracy to prescribe and dispense a controlled substance to a known addict, and obtaining prescriptions by fraud. Each defendant faces a possible maximum of over 5 years in prison.

Prosecutors argue that Stern was the principal enabler, conspiring with the two doctors to provide Smith with thousands of prescription pills between June 2004 and January 2007. At the time of Smith’s death, 11 prescription medications were found in her hotel room. All were authorized by Eroshevich, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who began treating her in September 2006 after Smith suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of her son. According to an AP report, most of the 11 drugs were prescribed in the name of Stern. None of them were in Smith's name. The three defendants also allegedly used fake names to procure more prescriptions for Smith.

The defense has argued that the doctors were acting with the best interests of their patient in mind, and that Smith was a strong, intelligent person who made her own decisions. Let’s hope that the jury can see through that flimsy excuse.

Here is an example of a jury that got it right. Just last month, a Los Angeles jury convicted Dr. Carlos Estiandan of 13 counts of unlawful controlled substance prescriptions. No celebrities involved, just one doctor, described by the DEA as the single, most prolific provider of prescription drugs in the nation. According to their extensive investigation, in the month of January 2008, only John Hopkins University wrote more prescriptions than Estiandan-- in the entire United States. During the three-year investigation, an undercover Sheriff's deputy was able to get 12 prescriptions from Estiandan without ever being properly examined. Estiandan now faces a maximum of 11 years in prison.

But law enforcement isn’t limiting its crack down to reckless doctors. New and improved investigative tools are being implemented to target addicts who are abusing the medical system, and to catch the street criminals that are creating illegal ways to exploit the vulnerabilities of the prescription drug addicts. And that’s a topic for another day…





And What's Your Return Policy on Kids?
June 22, 2010

The news has been filled recently with critiques, castigations, and a bit of understanding for Tennessean Torry Ann Hansen, the 33-year-old registered nurse who adopted a 7-year-old boy from Russia and then, six months later, sent him back. The boy arrived in Moscow alone, with a letter from Hansen pinned in his shirt stating that the child was “mentally unstable”, “violent”, had “severe psychopathic issues”, and concluded “… for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

I’m sure Ms. Hansen had no idea the firestorm of responses her actions would unleash. Mothers, political pundits, even the Kremlin came out swinging. Russia’s Foreign Ministry says it will not permit further adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents until Washington signs a pledge guaranteeing the security of Russian adoptees in the United States. Blame bullets are being fired at Ms. Hansen, for not being “realistic” about the difficulties of parenting, at the Russian adoption system, for being overcrowded and understaffed, to the American agencies, for failure to conduct thorough post-adoption assessments. Clearly, systems and procedures needed to be reviewed and overhauled. But I think this heart-wrenching story triggers a far broader discussion, one that touches us all, adopted or not.

I have found myself mesmerized by a TV show I surfed across one day as I was searching for a “happy place” to take my mind off the number of miles I had left to go on the treadmill. I was in “diet” mode, so the Food Network was not bringing me my usual joy. I landed on the “We” channel and got sucked in by Troy Dunn, “The Locator”. This gentle, thoughtful man helps people find family members they have lost through adoption. Parents searching for children, children searching for their biological parents or siblings. Over and over again, the common thread that emerges from the widely divergent stories is that there is no magical “parenting” power that is automatically bestowed on two contributing procreators. Every biological parent has their own, unique reason that justifies, in their mind, giving up their own flesh and blood. They were too young, in an abusive relationship, on drugs, prejudiced, mentally, physically or emotionally incapable… The list is endless.

The show also reveals that, almost without exception, it did end up being better, usually much better, in the long run, for the child to be raised by someone else.

Let’s face it—we all know people who are not cut out to be parents. And there are also kids who have problems that take a lot more than the average level of parenting skills to manage. So when a parent, adopted or biological, is honest enough to stand up and say, “Help! I can’t do this”, why do we judge them? Shouldn’t we just be thrilled that there will be one less abused and neglected child?




Databases and Detection
April 13th, 2010

Yes, Virginia, Big Brother is alive and well. And in this case, I think it’s a good thing. I’m referring to the proliferation of statewide databases being created, in part, to assist law enforcement in tracking patients who are abusing prescription drugs. Thank heavens for computers and programs that can accumulate and analyze and organize massive amounts of information in ways that we couldn’t even fathom when I first started as a criminal prosecutor way back in the ancient of days (aka, the late 80’s). Finally, the left hand can know what the right hand is doing.

So, these Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, or “PDMPs”, work by having physicians (prescribers) and pharmacists (dispensers) input into the database all the prescriptions they either write or fill. That way, these same prescribers and dispensers, and, (in most states), law enforcement have ready access to any given patient’s prescription drug history. It is timely and accurate. And statewide.

How helpful is that? It provides health care providers with more complete patient information, and in some states, allows them to use the data to identify patients who are at risk for addiction in order to initiate appropriate medical interventions. And for law enforcement, it exposes patients who may be involved in prescription fraud or doctor shopping. Before the databases, detecting these illegal activities was extremely difficult.

The databases are also proving useful to law enforcement in stemming another form of prescription drug fraud. As with any new societal issue, it seems it is only a matter of time before criminal minds concoct a way to exploit for profit any vulnerabilities. (I have always wondered what environmental puzzles might be solved or solutions for world peace might be derived by these, oft times, very creative intellects, if only they would limit themselves to legal activities.)

Sure enough, prescription drug rings have developed. Quite ingenious, really. Criminal organizations have recognized that prescription pads are like blank check books, little golden tickets to an endless supply of highly sought after drugs. The government actually realized this first, and tried to prevent the pads from falling into unscrupulous hands by making regulations that limit the vendors authorized to legally produce prescription pads. Those authorized vendors are then only allowed to supply the pads to legitimate doctors. Good plan on paper.

However, criminals have successfully thwarted the plan by ordering prescription pads from authorized vendors using stolen doctor identities (something that criminal organizations seem to have no problem accessing). The criminals then have free rein to write prescriptions, continuing to utilize the stolen doctor identities, fill them, and sell the drugs on the street. Or, even more simply, they can just sell the pads directly to the prescription drug addict and let them do the rest of the work.

Thanks to the PDMP’s, such prescription drug rings are actually being cracked. California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., (or to those of you who belong to my generation, Gerry Brown, former paramour of 80’s songbird Linda Ronstadt), has been cracking down on such a ring in Southern California. His investigation has uncovered over 5,000 fraudulent prescriptions, and counting. According to the Attorney General, one prescription discovered that was written using a stolen pad was for Corey Haim, the former child start who passed away recently after a self-described life long struggle with prescription drugs.

Law enforcement is making great strides in its ability to police and punish prescription drug abuse. Kudos are warranted. But the best solution for everyone, the doctors, the drug users, and the police, is to educate, educate, educate. Let your family and friends know they dangers that lie ahead, so they never go down this path to begin with.

Many people, teens and adults alike, still think that using prescription drugs can't "really" be illegal. Parents give their kids their left over prescription pills. Kids take other family member's pills to parties to get high. Too late, they realize they are addicted.

Here is a list of things that people do obtain prescription drugs. They are ALL ILLEGAL--

1. Taking someone else's prescribed pills.
2. Exaggerating or fabricating symptoms to a doctor to get more drugs.
3. Doctor hopping-- seeing more than one physician at a time and asking each for the same prescription.
4. Diversion of legitimately prescribed medications-- buying medications from patients who are receiving legitimate prescriptions.
5. Forging Prescriptions-- stealing prescription pads from medical offices, or using stolen doctor identities to obtain prescription pads from authorized vendors, and then writing your own prescriptions.
6. Fraudulent calls to pharmacies-- Calling pharmacies claiming to be a doctor or an assistant calling in a prescription.
7. Theft-- burglarizing pharmacies to steal drugs.
8. Buying "prescription" drugs off the internet without a valid doctor's prescription-- many online sites just require that you fill out a questionnaire.

Dad always preached that the best prevention of drug abuse starts with the family. And families are a topic for another day…