Policy and Regulatory Decision Making in the Medical Profession: A Framework to Identify the influence of Special Interest Groups and “Bent” Science

Could some of the current problems such as the marked increase in physician suicide, sham-peer review, and physician burnout be the result of bent science? Bent science is bad medicine. It needs to be exposed and addressed. If it exists then how do we identify and shine a light on it?

https://disruptedphysician.com/2015/02/12/bent-science-and-bad-medicine-the-influence-of-special-interest-groups-on-medical-regulation-and-a-framework-for-policy-analysis/

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Decision Making in Regulatory Medicine: A Framework to Identify the influence of Special Interest Groups and “Bent” Science

content-1In  Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research 1  Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner describe how special interest groups scheme to advance their own economic or ideological goals by using distorted or “bent” science to influence legal, regulatory and public health policy.

The authors describe a “separatist view” of science and policy that assumes scientific research is sufficiently reliable for public policy deliberations and legal proceedings when it reaches them.  This is illustrated as a pipeline in which it is presumed  the scientific community has properly vetted the information flow through rigorous peer-review and professional oversight.  The final product that exits the pipeline is understood to be unbiased and produced in accordance with the professional norms and procedures of science.   The reliability, integrity and validity of the final product is indubitably accepted.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.49.27 AMThe separatist  view does not consider the possibility that the scientific work exiting the pipeline could be intentionally shaped and contaminated by biasing influences as it flows through the pipeline.  When this occurs the final product exiting the pipeline is distorted or “bent” and bent science can result in bad decision making and bad policy.

Bent science starts with a pre-determined outcome and works backward from a desired result. It is not true science. Those orchestrating the deception (“benders”) use a variety of tactics and strategies to shape, package and spin science to support their own hidden agenda and suppress opposing science.

Benders attempt to hide, dismiss and debunk contrarian research and unsupportive science.  Benders will attack and harass the science and scientists that pose a threat to their interests. Using carefully crafted studies designed to confirm a desired outcome, the pre-determined conclusions are subsequently promoted and publicized to the relevant stakeholders who are often unable ( or sometimes unwilling) to discern real science from junk-science.

Misinformation, propaganda, and deception are disseminated in a variety of venues. Public relations firms are used to manipulate public perception and freelance writers are hired  brandish favorable consensus statements.  Authoritative reviews and critiques are ghostwritten under the names of  “outside experts” who profit both monetarily and by adding a high-profile publication to their resume.

Opinion is paraded as fact and with a dearth of professional oversight the charade usually goes unnoticed and unopposed.

Data-dredging, cherry picking, confirmatory bias, confirmatory distortion, fabrication, falsification, exaggeration, and a whole host of deceptive tactics are used to work backward from an already determined result.

Any information that contradicts the answer is manipulated, undermined, suppressed or downplayed; even if it is the result of real science and evidence-based research; even if it is the truth.  Professional procedure, protocol and ethics are off the table.  It is an underhanded free-for-all. Bare knuckle boxing. Trash your opponents work and label it junk-science. Undermine the integrity of your opponents.  Use ad hominem attacks to question the opponents motives. Claim the scientists are hacks on the take.  Start rumors about them.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.50.32 AMLoudly claim you are the one who is evidence based. Proclaim professionalism and authority.  Quibble. Move the goalpost.   Nit-pick and split hairs.  Proclaim over and over and over again you are the one who is evidence based.

And the problem is it usually works.  It is an unfair playing field.  When no meaningful barriers are in place to detect cheating and identify cheaters they usually win.

Bending science can have serious and sometimes horrific consequences and multiple examples including the Tobacco and pharmaceutical industry are given in the book.

Calling for immediate action  to reduce the role that bent science plays in regulatory and judicial decision making, the authors emphasize the assistance of the scientific community is necessary in designing and implementing reform.

“Shedding even a little light on how advocates bend policy -relevant science could go a long way toward remedying these problems.  Indeed, precisely because the advocates have overtaken the law in this area, heightened attention to the social costs of bending science could itself precipitate significant change.”

But there are difficulties in challenging bent science including a general lack of recognition of the problem. With an absence of counter-studies to oppose deliberately manufactured ends-oriented research this would be expected.

Bent science involves the deliberate manufacturing of a pool of  information designed to promote a specific agenda.  A level playing field would require a pool of opposing research specifically addressing that agenda.  In reality this requires both the incentive and the power to do so–an unlikely scenario short of an equally well funded competitor or sufficient public concern about the problem.

In fact counter-forces are often nonexistent. Investigatory techniques developed and promoted by the FBI crime lab (such as firearms identification and intoxication testing) is one example described in the book.  These techniques evolved with little meaningful oversight from the larger scientific community and could be badly bent but there is no meaningful pool of information to disprove them.  The authors aptly state that   “defendants in most criminal cases lack resources to mount effective challenges, much less undertake their own counter-research.”

And part of the “art” of bending involves swaying public opinion and the mainstream media is typically aligned with the benders so opposing viewpoints seldom make the headlines.

Additionally, there is no meaningful oversight or avenue to pursue accountability. No systems exist to prevent, catch and publicly expose bent-science or those who bend science.

The influence of special interest groups on the practice of medicine is unknown.  No one has examined the role of bent science in the rules, regulations, policies and decisions made by those who are in charge of the standards of medical practice and professional behavior of doctors but as a regulated profession governed by the  decisions and policies of regulators it is certainly possible.

Regulation of the Medical Profession

Alexis de Toqueville once observed that a key feature of American government was the decentralized character of administration. “Written laws exist in America,” he wrote, “and one sees the daily execution of them; but although everything moves regularly, the mover can nowhere be discovered. The hand which directs the social machine is invisible.”2

Administrative law is the body of law that allows for the creation of public regulatory agencies and contains all of the statutes, judicial decisions and regulations that govern them. Administrative agencies implement their powers in the form of rules, regulations, orders and decisions.   State medical boards are the regulatory agencies responsible for the licensure and discipline of physicians. They grant the right to practice medicine in the form of a medical license and each state has Medical Practice Act that governs and defines the practice of medicine. The medical board is empowered to take action against a doctor for substandard care, unprofessional behavior and other violations as defined by the state Medical Practice Act.

Administrative Code governs the licensure and disciplinary process and the State Administrative Procedure Act governs the legal process (due process, discovery, etc.). Regulatory changes are enacted through procedural, interpretive and legislative rules.

Both medical practice acts and administrative procedure acts are subject to change.  Changes in medical practice acts can redefine what is acceptable practice and what constitutes professional behavior. This can increase the power and control these agencies have over doctors both professionally and socially.

Changes in Administrative practice acts can decrease what rights a doctor has if this power and control is abused.  Changes in the wording of administrative code and administrative practice acts can have profound implications in these rights including due-process, timeliness of being heard, rights to appeal decisions and time-constraints for judicial review.

And when these changes occur they do so silently.  The hand that directs the machine is indeed invisible.  The consequences, however, are not.  These changes not only impact those touched by the hand but can have a systemic impact on the entire profession.

State medical practice acts as well as administrative practice acts and code are susceptible to change and therefore susceptible to the influence of special interest groups benefitting from such change.  Regulation of the medical profession is thus susceptible to bent science.

Bent Science and the Medical Profession

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The impact of bent science on the regulation of the medical profession has not been studied. As a profession governed by regulatory agencies medicine is certainly not immune to the influence of special interest groups who could in turn influence public policy and regulatory decisions, rules and regulations to benefit their own interests.

Making sound decisions about regulation calls for an understanding of the problem it is intended to solve. This demands methodologically sound science and evidence-based facts arrived at through rigorous peer review and professional oversight. The science on which policy decisions are made must be reliable and unbiased. Legitimate policy must be based on recognized and legitimate institutions and experts.

If the information regulatory agencies rely on to discipline doctors and protect the public is unreliable then serious consequences can occur.

It would be beneficial to look for changes in public policy, guidelines, rules and regulations involving the medical profession and examine the reasons behind them. When did the problem present? Who presented it? Was it based on methodologically sound and accurate data?  What organizations do the problem presenters represent?  What organizations or individuals aligned or associated with the presenters might benefit?  What are the consequences?  Who is harmed?

Howard Becker describes the role of “moral entrepreneurs,” who crusade for making and enforcing rules that benefit their own interests by bringing them to the attention of the public and those in positions of power and authority under the guise of righting a society evil.8   

The mechanics and mentality is similar to the science benders and, as discussed below,  they use some of the same techniques.

Moral entrepreneurs take the lead in labeling a particular behavior deviant and spreading this label throughout society.  They associate the behavior of some group with a society evil, affix an easily recognizable label to it and then express the conviction that the evil must be combated.  Labeled as being outside the central core values of consensual society, the deviants in the designated group are perceived as posing a threat to both the values of society and society itself.

Activities can rise to the level of ‘social problems” when harm or danger is attributed to those activities and governmental powers are called upon to put an end to those harms. Bent science requires convincing others of a viewpoint and the likelihood of this occurring increases when the activity that is identified as a problem resonates with underlying societal concerns and anxieties.  The problem is then endorsed by experts who give legitimacy to such claims.3,4 This legitimacy results attracts media attention which further enforces support from both the public and policy makers.5,6  

As a result any bent science directed at regulatory and public policy decision making should be clearly visible.

The sociologist Stanley Cohen used the term ”moral panic” to characterize the amplification of deviance by the media, the public, and agents of social control.7 According to cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the media obtain their information from the primary definers of social reality in authoritative positions and amplify the perceived threat to the existing social order. The authorities then act to eliminate the threat.9 The dominant ideas or ideologies are reproduced by relying on the opinions of the defining authority and then spread through the media.

An internet search of what labels have been affixed to doctors in association with a threat to society there are three.  A google search of “impaired physician” yields 20, 600 results; “disruptive physician” yields 17, 400 results; and “aging physician” yields 27, 800 results. A large number of these articles, opinion pieces and reviews associate impaired, disruptive and aging physicians with patient death and other adverse events, medical error, and malpractice.   The labels affixed to these physicians have been characterized as a major threat to public health and the rhetorical tools used in many of these articles seems aimed at increasing public anxiety.

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A PubMed search yields 154 results for the “impaired physician”; 47 results for the “disruptive physician”; and 19 results for the “aging physician.”  Many of these are opinion pieces written by the same group of physicians and aimed at hospital administrators, regulators and those involved in the legal or business aspects of medicine.

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There is, in fact, no evidence based research that associates the impaired, disruptive or aging physician with any adverse events. The “impaired,” “disruptive” and “aging” physician labels  as evinced by a quick google search seem escalated far beyond the level warranted by the existing evidence.

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The “impaired” and “disruptive” labels have taken on the status of moral panic and the “aging” label, which is being associated with cognitive impairment, seems to be heading in that direction. The number of articles being published and lectures being given on the dangers of cognitively impaired doctors is increasing.  It has not yet reached the level of public awareness the impaired and disruptive have.

To acknowledge that the current level of concern about these labels is exaggerated is not to suggest they do not exist. They do.  But the disparity between the evidence-base, or lack thereof, and the level of concern warrants further investigation.

To be clear,  doctors who are impaired by drug and alcohol abuse need to be removed from practice to protect the public and receive treatment;  doctors who are abusive to others or engage in behavior that threatens patient care need to be held accountable for their actions; and doctors who are cognitively impaired due to dementia need to be removed from practice and evaluated by the proper specialists.  If a diagnosis of dementia is confirmed then they need to be removed from practice.

What is the motivation behind the “impaired,” “disruptive” and “aging” physician labels and the multiple articles linking these labels to patient harm and medical error?  There is no data driven evidence so where does it come from?   Could moral entrepreneurs be behind it?  If so then there should be evidence  of bent science and to examine this we must look for evidence that these labels have been used to influence regulatory decisions, rules, regulations and policy.

And with the recently archived Journal of Medical Regulation this task can be easily accomplished.

The Journal of Medical Regulation as Timeline and Framework for Policy Evaluation

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is a national not-for profit organization that gives guidance to state medical boards through public policy development and recommendations on issues pertinent to medical regulation. Shortly after its founding in 1912, the Federation of State Medical Boards began publishing a quarterly journal addressing issues relating to medical licensing and regulation of doctors. First published in 1913 as the Quarterly of the Federation of State Boards of the United States, the publication has undergone several name changes and publication schedules. From1921 to 1999 it was published monthly as the Federation Bulletin. In 1999 it was changed to the quarterly Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline and in 2010 was revised to the Journal of Medical Regulation The Journal of Medical Regulation is in the process of archiving all issues dating back to 1913.

Presently every paper dating back to 1967 is available online and the archival organization and availability of full articles published sequentially over the past half-century is historically invaluable.   As the official journal of the national organization involved in the medical licensing and regulation of doctors, this archival organization allows for an unskewed and impartial examination in both historical and cultural context. We can identify when particular issues and problems were presented, who presented them and how.

The Journal of Medical Regulation archives provides a structured context to examine these issues in their historical and cultural context.  This facilitates a retrospective analysis.  As a timeline it allows identification of when the issues were presented.  It also allows us to look at the events preceding the problem, who benefited from them, and the consequences. Could these factors be involved in influencing the regulation of medicine and shaping the medical profession? Could bent science have been involved in regulatory and administrative changes that have significantly impacted the rights and well-being of doctors and how the profession of medicine is defined?  Could some of the current problems such as the marked increase in physician suicide, sham-peer review, and physician burnout be the result of bent science?  If bent science is contributing to bad policy and bad decision making then it need to be exposed and addressed.  Bent science is bad medicine and if it exists then we need to urgently shine a light on it.

  1. McGarity TO, Wagner WE. Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2008.
  2. de Toqueville A. Democracy in America. New York: Penguin Books; 1984.
  3. Blumer H. Social Problems as Collective Behavior. Social Problems. 1971;18:298-306.
  4. Stone DA. Causal Stories and the formation of policy agendas. Political Science Quarterly. 1989;104:280-300.
  5. Best J. Threatened Children, Rhetoric and Concern about Child Victims. Chicago University of Chicago Press; 1990.
  1. Gerbner G, Gross L. The scarey World of TV’s heavy viewer. Psychology Today. 1976;9(89):41-45.
  2. Cohen S. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (New Edition). Oxford, U.K.: Martin Robertson; 1980.
  3. Becker H. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press; 1963.
  4. Hall SC, Critcher C, Jefferson T, Clark J, Roberts B. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Macmillan; 1978.

 

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Question Authority: The Need for Anti-Authoritarians in the Medical Profession

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Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously.  images-24To evaluate the legitimacy of  an authority it is necessary to:
1. Assess whether they actually know what they are talking about.   2. Assess whether the authorities are honest in their intentions.
When anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority.
There is a paucity of anti-authoritarianism in the medical community concerning groups that have gained tremendous sway in the regulation of the medical profession.    There is, in fact, an absence of anti-authoritarian questioning  of  what is essentially illegitimate and irrational authority.
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Most doctors are unaware of the impact these organizations have had on both the regulation of the medical profession and social control of individual doctors.  Through “moral entrepreneurship” and “bent science” these groups have successfully swayed both policy-makers and the public to support an agenda not supported by reality testing or critical thinking.  This acceptance without investigation has led to a deterioration of professional ethics and evidence-based decision making in the regulation of the medical profession.
 In order for these organizations to maintain power it is necessary that their authoritative opinion remain unquestioned and unchallenged.  Consciously manufactured propaganda has persuaded regulatory and public opinion of their value and to maintain power it is necessary that this authority remain insulated from outside evaluation because the entire system is based on assumptions that can be aptly characterized as “illusions.
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The dogmatic statements and abusive generalizations do not conform to reality.
Everything is adapted to an existing stagnant cognitive system that falls far off the map of the scientific approach to information and evidence based medicine.  Perceiving only confirmations the physician health paradigm embodies and expresses preconceived ideas, values and mentalities based on certitude and absolute truth.

If one looks behind the curtain there is not much there.   Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 3.39.59 AM

Historical, political, economic and social analysis can all show how the construct that exists today came to be.   This can be factually ascertained by simple reasoning and examination of the documentary evidence.

Any one of these analyses would reveal that the “PHP-blueprint” is a false-construct built on circumnavigation and obfuscation.

An evidence-based scrutiny of the literature would reveal it to be invalid and of little probative value.  A public policy analysis would reveal the logical fallacies involved in trumpeting  their positions including exaggerated rhetoric and  fear monitoring strategies designed to inspire moral panics and exploit fears to further an underlying political agenda

Any critical analysis would reveal cherry picking. proof by anecdote, deceptive propaganda, double talk, contradictory, illogical and incomprehensible jabber,  unprovable and  un-disprovable statements and a panoply of logical fallacy.

These groups  misrepresent, censor and suppress. They  nit pick and split hairs.  Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 3.40.37 AMThe concept of denial is not just used to force people into treatment and justify abuse during treatment but  to suppress specific questions and deliberately avoid key facts.

So why are we not questioning this “authority?”     They have been left alone and basically thrown in the backyard left to proliferate like feral cats.

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We need anti-authoritarians and we need them now.

I need allies before the door closes for good. And that door may be closing a lot sooner than you think!

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The ASAM plan to exploit the doctor-patient relationship to drug test everyone they can using non-FDA approved tests they introduced: And you and your doctor won’t have a choice in the matter.

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Before the  2012 Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA)  annual conference, former Nixon Drug Czar Dr. Robert Dupont delivered a speech entitled “Drug Testing and the Future of American Drug Policy.”   Dupont describes a “New Paradigm” for substance abuse treatment that enforces “zero tolerance for alcohol and drug use”  enforced by monitoring with frequent random drug and alcohol tests in which positive tests are “met with swift, certain, but not draconian, consequences.” The paradigm is based on the current Physician Health Programs blueprint.  Dupont states:

“…physician health programs , have set the standard for effective use of drug testing. These pioneering state programs provide services to health care professionals with substance use disorders. The programs are run by physicians, some of whom in recovery themselves. PHPs feature relatively brief but highly focused treatment followed by active lifelong participation in the 12-step fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The key to the success of the PHP system of care management is the enforcement of the standard of zero tolerance for any alcohol or other drug use by intensive long-term random testing for both alcohol and drugs with swift and certain consequences for even a single use of alcohol or any other drugs of abuse. PHPs use drug panels of 20 or more drugs. The PHPs commonly use EtG and EtS tests to detect recent alcohol use. Similar comprehensive programs have been developed for commercial pilots and attorneys. These innovative programs of care management produce unprecedented long-term, outcomes.”

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) use a doctor’s medical license as “leverage” in what they call “contingency management.”  The doctor must comply with any and all demands made under threat of being reported to their medical board for “non-compliance.”  The national organization representing PHPs, the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP) has convinced the national organization representing state medical boards, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) that “second-guessing” PHP authority “undermines a culture of professionalism.”   As with every other ware the FSPHP has pitched the FSMB they accepted this notion in blind faith and without critical analysis. If they did look a little deeper they would find the “PHPs-blueprint” more resembles a paradigm of “racketeering” then it does “rehabilitation” or “recovery” and the terms they use are euphemisms.  Taking a medical license “hostage” and holding it for “ransom”  while putting coins in your pocket by “extortion” doesn’t fit in with a “culture of professionalism” though.  They are very good at impression management–have to give them that.

Declaring the PHP model the “gold standard” of substance abuse treatment they now want to spread the wealth to others, including kids.    But instead of a medical license it will be your student loan, right to participate in school sports, teaching license, hairdressing license, commercial truck driving license, gun license, and even license to drive they will be after.  If you got it and it is in any way tied to state or federal government benefits or rights they will threaten you with removing it.  And as is being seen in doctors there will not be a damned thing you will be able to do about it.

This is all outlined in the 2013 American Society of Addiction Medicine White Paper on Drug Testing.   If you have not read it yet you need to.   If you read one thing this year make it this as it is under the radar and no one is talking about it.

A Modest Proposal

I implore you to do two things:

1.  Read the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing in its entirety.  It can be found here and here.

2.  If you like what you see do nothing.  If this is the predominant response then it will surely come to fruition as has every other public policy recommendation the ASAM has pushed.  ( See policy entrepreneurship, bent science,  moral crusades).

3. If you don’t like what you see then stand up!  Make your voice known.  Make your voice known in every venue you can.  Write and call your local and state politicians,  comment in the news media, tweet, Instagram, post to FaceBook, send links to your connections on Linkedin. Do everything you can because we do not have long.  The ASAM is slated to become recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 2016 and that will be the beginning of the end.  What is described in the ASAM White Paper will be ushered in and, as we have seen with what has happened to doctors, there will not be a thing you will be able to do about it.

The ASAM is not a medical “specialty” but a “special interest group representing the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.   Although they say they exist to help addicts and benefit the public their plans as outlined below suggest they do neither.   Moreover, many of the architects of this future drug-testing dystopia can be found right here on this list.

In order to prevent this we need voices now!  Please take the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing Challenge.  Read it, form an opinion and state, yell and shout  your opinion everywhere and anywhere you can.


The 2013 American Society of Addiction Medicine White Paper on Drug Testing describes the organizational structure of the “New Paradigm” which includes utilization of the medical profession as a urine collection agency for their drug and alcohol testing. When a doctor-patient relationship exists the testing is rendered “clinical” rather than “forensic.” Thus the consequences of a positive test can be deemed “treatment” rather than punishment. This bypasses the strict chain-of-custody and Medical Review Officer requirements designed to ensure accuracy and minimize false-positives.  Forensic drug testing is tightly regulated because the results a positive test can be grave and far reaching.  Erroneous results are unacceptable.

And then he proposed expansion of this paradigm to other populations including workplace, healthcare, and schools.


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Chain-of-Custody refers to the document or paper trail showing the collection, control, transfer, analysis and disposition of laboratory tests.  It is the written documentation of a specimen from the moment of collection to the final destination to the review and reporting of the final results.   The multi-part chain-of-custody form or “custody and control” form is part and parcel of this process. It contains stickers to sign and seal the specimen so that it cannot be tampered with and the form itself is signed by the appropriate parties as the test specimen travels from place to place. Information is added to the form as it travels from person to person.  It has been given the status of a legal document as it has the ability to invalidate a specimen with incomplete information.  Once the sample is analyzed it is reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO) for final review. In the case of a positive test it is the responsibility of the MRO to ascertain an intact  chain-of-custody, determine whether an alternative explanation exists for the positive test such as a prescribed medication, and then and only then report the test as a “true positive.”

The MRO looks for what are called “fatal flaws” and,  should one be present, invalidates the test.  A fatal flaw requires the test be rejected as it were never drawn.  It invalidates it and it cannot be used. screen-shot-2013-12-19-at-12-20-46-pmAny and all drug testing requires strict  chain-of-custody procedures. It documents not only the whereabouts of the specimen at any given time but the management and storage of the specimen. This is important because time and temperature can influence the results of certain tests.  One such test is alcohol.

Specimen integrity is critical in forensic drug testing, but so too is the integrity of the people involved.


Forensic Versus Clinical Drug Testing

According to the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing, clinical drug-testing “employs the same sound procedures, safeguard, and systems of information management that are used for all other health-related laboratory tests, tests on which life-and-death medical decisions are commonly made.”  In the box below they describe the multiple safeguards in place and requirements demanded of “forensic” drug testing but do not mention the reason these uncompromising and multiple specifications exist is to protect the donor from a false accusation of drug or alcohol use.  They proceed to define “clinical drug testing” as “part of a patient examination performed for the purposes of diagnosis, treatment, and the promotion of long term recovery” noting that clinical testing “must meet the established standards of medical practice and benefit the therapeutic relationship, rather than meeting the formal legal requirements of forensic testing.”  The authors then state that the “majority of drug testing done today” includes both forensic and clinical elements using individuals on parole and probation as examples.

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From the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing

The logical fallacy here is striking.  It is comparing apples and oranges.  After detailing the specific quality assurance safeguards designed to prevent the donor of a drug or alcohol test from being falsely accused of illicit use, the authors give a general  definition and purpose of  “clinical” testing  then state that when testing for drugs the systems in place are up to snuff as it is already being used to make  life-and-death medical decisions.  The take-home message is that “forensic” testing is unnecessary hyperbole designed for legal challenges. The clinical lab  systems in place are used for critically  important testing so it can be used for drug-testing.   After all, parolees and probationers don’t require it.

Forensic guidelines were developed in collaboration with occupational and environmental medicine specialists, clinical and forensic toxicologists, pathologists and others and the recommended  requirements agreed upon by this consortium exists solely to  assure validity and accuracy in the testing process.  These requirements exist to protect the donor and If the “clinical” testing context fit the bill then “forensic” testing would not have evolved.

Labs ordered clinically in the course of patient care are interpreted within the context of multiple other pieces of data.  Lab errors occur all the time and are interpreted in that context. Oftentimes a lab will not fit with the clinical picture and, when that happens, a repeat lab is ordered for verification.  Specimens get collected in the wrong tube and specimens get lost but in the clinical setting they simply get reordered and there are no consequences to patient care.   In contrast drug testing is an all-or-none one-shot test and the results have consequences. It is for that reason they must be valid.  Chain-of-custody and MRO review are critical and that is why most drug-testing programs follow the forensic protocol.  And the example of non-forensic drug-testing  parolees and probationers is misleading.   Any Employee Assistance Program that has a union or some other group looking out for their best interests uses strict “forensic” guidelines.   Parolees and probationers have no power  and have no choice.  Besides, the  National Association of Drug Court Professionals uses the Laboratory Developed Tests these same people introduced to test  individuals on probation or parole in the criminal justice system just as they do in the PHPs.

The  ASAM White Paper:

 “Encourages wider and “smarter” use of drug testing within the practice of medicine and, beyond that, broadly within American society. Smarter drug testing means increased use of random testing* rather than the more common scheduled testing,* and it means testing not only urine but also other matrices such as blood, oral fluid (saliva), hair, nails, sweatand breath when those matrices match the intended assessment process. In addition, smarter testing means testing based upon clinical indication for a broad and rotating panel of drugs”

As a physician-patient relationship renders drug testing “clinical” rather than “forensic” the consequences become “treatment” rather than “discipline.”  And that is the real reason behind all of this.    A positive “forensic” test in most employee random drug screening programs today will result in an “assessment” for substance abuse.  Most EAPs allow a choice in where that assessment takes place.  The model this system is based on, Physician Health Programs. does not allow choice as evaluations are mandated to “PHP-approved” assessment centers; a rigged game.

A positive “clinical” test will result in the same thing under the ASAM White Paper proposal.  But the assessment will be at an ASAM facility and if a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is confirmed it will result in mandated abstinence of all substances (including alcohol) and lifelong spirituality involving 12-step recovery   And by using the healthcare system as a loophole and calling this testing “clinical” rather than “forensic” the ASAM will have successfully introduced widespread testing of a variety of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs) of unknown validity while removing  the safeguards provided by forensic testing including chain-of-custody and MRO review.

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The “Impaired Physician Movement” and the History of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM): The need for critical appraisal by truly independent organizations


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“With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around the shoulder of medicine, we might change the world.”—Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, AA World Services, Inc (1953).


In order to comprehend the current plight of the medical profession and the dark clouds that lie ahead it is necessary to understand the history of the “impaired physician movement” and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

In 1985 the British sociologist G. V. Stimson wrote:

“The impaired physician movement is characterized by a number of evangelical recovered alcoholic and addict physicians, whose recovery has been accompanied by an involvement in medical society and treatment programs. Their ability to make authoritative pronouncements on physician impairment is based on their own claim to insider’s knowledge.”1

The impaired physician movement emphasizes disease and therapy rather than discipline and punishment and believes that addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease requiring lifelong abstinence and 12-step spiritual recovery. The drug or alcohol abuser or addict is a person lacking adequate internal controls over his or her  behavior;  for his own protection as well as the protection of society external restraints are required including involuntary treatment.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) can trace its roots to the 1954 founding of the New York City Medical Society on Alcoholism (NYCMSA) by Ruth Fox, M.D whose husband died from alcoholism.

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Finding that alcoholics in her psychoanalytic practice did not recover when she used conventional analytic approaches, she taught her patients about alcoholism as a disease and introduced “them to AA meetings held in her living room.”2

A number of physicians in the New York Medical Society were themselves recovering alcoholics who turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for care.3

The society, numbering about 100 members, established itself as a national organization in 1967, the American Medical Society on Alcoholism (AMSA).3

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The group promoted the concept of alcoholism as a chronic relapsing disease requiring lifelong spiritual recovery through the 12-steps of AA.

By 1970 membership was nearly 500.2Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 2.47.51 PM

In 1973 AMSA became a component of the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA), now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) in a medical advisory capacity until 1983.

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“Abstinence from alcohol is necessary for recovery from the disease of alcoholism” became the first AMSA Position Statement in 1974.2

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In 1985 ASAM’s first certification exam was announced. According to Dr. Bean-Bayog, chair of the Credentialing Committee:

“A lot of people in the alcoholism field have long wanted physicians in the field to have a high level of skills and scientific credibility and for this body of knowledge to be accredited.”2

And in 1986 662 physicians took the first ASAM Certification Exam.medical

By 1988 membership was over 2,800 with 1,275 of these physicians “certified” as:

“having demonstrated knowledge and expertise in alcoholism and other drug dependencies commensurate with the standards set forth by the society.”4
“While certification does not certify clinical skill or competence,” the Board explained, “it does identify physicians who have demonstrated knowledge in diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism and other drug dependencies.”5
Somehow, I don't think this is quite what they had in mind!

Somehow, I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind!

Achieving “recognized board status for chemical dependence” and fellowships in  “chemical dependency”  are among the five-year objectives identified by the group.  These are to come to fruition by  “careful discussion, deliberation, and consultation” to “determine its form and structure and how best to bring it about.”5

The formation of ASAM State Chapters begins with California, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland submitting requests.6

In 1988 the AMA House of Delegates votes to admit ASAM to the House. According to ASAM News this “legitimizes the society within the halls of organized medicine.”2

In 1989 the organization changes its name to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).2

Since 1990, physicians have been able to list addiction medicine as a self-designated area of practice using the specialty code “ADM.”

By 1993 ASAM has a membership of 3,500 with a total of 2,619 certifications in Addiction Medicine.

The Membership Campaign Task Force sets  a goal to double its membership of 3,500 to 7,000 by the year 2000 to assure “the future of treatment for patients with chemicals. It represents a blueprint for establishing addiction medicine as a viable entity.”7

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Ninety physicians become Fellows of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) in 1996 “to recognize substantial and lasting contributions to the Society and the field of addiction medicine.”8

Among the honorees are Robert DuPont, G. Douglas Talbott, Paul Earley, and Mel Pohl. In addition to at least five consecutive years of membership and certification by the Society, Fellows must have “taken a leadership role in ASAM through committee service, or have been an officer of a state chapter, and they must have made and continue to make significant contributions to the addictions field.”8

The American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) is formed in 2007 as a non-profit 501(C)(6) organization “following conferences of committees appointed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine” to “examine and certify Diplomats.”9

In 2009 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, M.D., gives the keynote address at the first ABAM Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.12.23 AMboard certification diploma ceremony.10

According to an article in Addiction Professional “Board certification is the highest level of practice recognition given to physicians.”

“A Physician membership society such as ASAM, however, cannot confer ‘Board Certification,’ ” but a“ “Medical Board such as ABAM has a separate and distinct purpose and mission: to promote and improve the quality of medical care through establishing and maintaining standards and procedures for credentialing and re-credentialing medical specialties.”

The majority of ASAM physicians meet these requirements by “working in a chemical dependency treatment facility, taking continuing medical education courses in addiction, or participating in research.”11

“In the United States accredited residency programs in addiction exist only for psychiatrists specializing in addiction psychiatry; nonpsychiatrists seeking training in addiction medicine can train in nonaccredited ‘fellowships,’ or can receive training in some ADP programs, only to not be granted a certificate of completion of accredited training.”11

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Specialty recognition by the American Board of Medical Specialties, fifty Addiction Medicine Fellowship training programs and a National Center for Physician Training in Addiction Medicine are listed as future initiatives of the ABAM Foundation in 2014.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s mission is to “establish addiction medicine as a specialty recognized by professional organizations, governments, physicians, purchasers, and consumers of health care products, and the general public’12   

In this they have succeeded.

And in the year 2014 G.V. Stimson’s characterization of the “impaired physician movement” remains as accurate and apt as it was in 1985. But the “number of evangelical recovered alcoholic and addict physicians” has increased dramatically  (outnumbering Addiction Psychiatry by 4:1)  and their involvement in  medical society and treatment programs” has been realized and enforced through the state Physician Health Programs and their “PHP-approved’ assessment and treatment centers.Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.11.55 AM

Their “ability to make authoritative pronouncements on physician impairment…based on their own claim to insider’s knowledge”  has become public policy and sanctified by Regulatory Medicine -essentially the Word of the Lord.

And the 1953 Alcoholics Anonymous prophecy that “With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around the shoulder of medicine, we might change the world” is also coming to pass.

But the world is not changing for the better as that arm around the shoulder of religion has its fingers deep in the pockets of the multi-billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and assessment and treatment industries.  And the arm around the shoulder of medicine has its fingers clamped tightly around its throat; a stranglehold in full throttle suffocating the Profession of Medicine with no meaningful opposition I can see.


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  1. Stimson GV. Recent developments in professional control: the impaired physician movement in the USA. Sociology of health & illness. Jul 1985;7(2):141-166.
  2. Four Decades of ASAM. ASAM News. March-April 1994, 1994.
  3. Freed CR. Addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry in America: Commonalities in the medical treatment of addiction. Contemporary Drug Problems. 2010;37(1):139-163.
  4. . American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies Newsletter. Vol III. New York, NY: AMSAODD; 1988:12.
  5. Ursery S. $1.3M verdict coaxes a deal for doctor’s coerced rehab. Fulton County Daily Report. May 12, 1999b 1999.
  6. . AMSAODD News. Vol III. New York, NY: American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies; 1988.
  7. Membership Campaign Update. ASAM News. Vol VIII: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 1993:11.
  8. . ASAM News. Vol 12. Chevy Chase, MD: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 1997:20.
  9. http://www.abam.net/about/history/.
  10. Kunz KB, Gentiello LM. Landmark Recognition for Addiction Medicine: Physician certification by the American Board of Addiction Medicine will Benefit all Addiction Professionals. Addiction Professional. 2009. http://www.addictionpro.com/article/landmark-recognition-addiction-medicine.
  11. Tontchev GV, Housel TR, Callahan JF, Kunz KB, Miller MM, Blondell RD. Specialized training on addictions for physicians in the United States. Substance abuse : official publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse. Apr 2011;32(2):84-92.
  12. http://www.asam.org/about-us/mission-and-goals.

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Physician Suicide, Organizational Justice and the “Cry of pain” Model: Hopelessness, Helplessness and Defeat

tireddoctorAccording to Talbott, “impaired doctors must first acknowledge their addiction and overcome their ‘terminal uniqueness’ before they can deal with a drug or alcohol problem.” “Terminal uniqueness “ is a phrase Talbott uses to describe doctors’ tendency to think they can heal themselves. “M-Deity” refers to doctors “being trained to think they’re God,” an unfounded generalization considering the vast diversity of individuals that make up our profession. This attitude, according to some critics, stems from the personal histories of the treatment staff, including Talbott, who are recovering alcoholics and addicts themselves. One such critic was Assistant Surgeon General under C. Everett Koop John C. Duffy who said that Ridgeview suffered from a “boot-camp mentality” toward physicians under their care and “assume every physician suffering from substance abuse is the same lying, stealing, cheating, manipulating individual they were when they had the illness. Certainly some physicians are manipulative, but it’s naïve to label all physicians with these problems.”

Disrupted Physician

They can be a terror to your mind and show you how to hold your tongue
They got mystery written all over their forehead
They kill babies in the crib and say only the good die young
They don’t believe in mercy
Judgement on them is something that you’ll never see
They can exalt you up or bring you down main route
Turn you into anything that they want you to be–Bob Dylan, Foot of Pride


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Although no reliable statistics yet exist, anecdotal reports suggest a marked rise in physician suicide in recent years. From the reports I am receiving it is a lot more than the oft cited “medical school class” of 400 per year.

This necessitates an evaluation of predisposing risk factors such as substance abuse and depression, but also requires a critical examination of what external forces may be involved in the descent from suicidal ideation to suicidal…

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Bent Science and Bad Medicine: The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship and Social Control

IMG_9005The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship, and Social Control

Sociologist Stanley Cohen  used the term “”moral panic” to characterize the amplification of deviance by the media, the public, and agents of social control.1  Labeled as being outside the central core values of consensual society, the deviants in the designated group are perceived as posing a threat to both the values of society and society itself.   Belief in the seriousness of the situation justifies intolerance and unfair treatment of the accused.   The evidentiary standard is lowered.

Howard Becker describes the role of “moral entrepreneurs,” who crusade for making and enforcing rules that benefit their own interests by bringing them to the attention of the public and those in positions of power and authority under the guise of righting a society evil. 2

And according to cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the media obtain their information from the primary definers of social reality in authoritative positions and amplify the perceived threat to the existing social order. The authorities then act to eliminate the threat.3  The dominant ideas or ideologies are reproduced by relying on the opinions of the defining authority and then spread through the media. The communal good has been assailed.

As a society governed by organizations, associations,  institutions and regulatory bodies, the medical profession is not immune to “moral panics.”  A threat to patient care or the values of the profession can be identified and amplified.   A buildup of public concern fueled by media attention ensues creating a need for governing bodies to act. Medical Professionalism and the Public Health has been assailed.

Unbeknownst to the general public and most members of the medical profession at large, certain groups have gained tremendous sway within medical society. Through  moral entrepreneurship they have gained authority and become  the primary definers of the governance of the medical profession and the social control of  doctors.  To benefit their own interests they have fostered and fueled “moral panics” and “moral crusades. ” Exhorting authorities to fight these  threats by any means necessary  they have successfully made and enforced rules and  regulations and introduced new definitions and tools with no meaningful resistance or opposition.

The Inquisition did not have to convince  individual citizens or the general public of their beliefs to advance an agenda; just Ecclesiastical and Political Authority.  Similarly, the  “impaired physicians movement” did not have to convince individual doctors or the medical profession of their beliefs  to further a self-serving agenda; just  regulatory and administrative authority.

Addiction Medicine Monopoly, False Authority and Conflicts of Interest

The “impaired physicians movement” can be defined as a group of physicians with alcohol and substance abuse problems who, having found sobriety through 12-step spirituality, banded together to promote the ideology behind their personal  “recovery”  to other doctors and the medical community at large. In the 1980s the movement gained momentum and as their numbers grew  began calling themselves  specialists in “addiction medicine.”  The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)  is not a true specialty, but a Self-Designated-Practice-Specialty, which simply means that is what they are calling themselves.  It reflects neither knowledge nor expertise..  “Board certification” by the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

ABAM certification requires only a medical degree, a valid license to practice medicine, and completion of residency training in ANY specialty.  Addiction Psychiatry, a subspecialty of psychiatry under the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry  is the only  specialty recognized by the ABMS. and their specialty society is the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

The ASAM is schooled in just one one uncompromising model of addiction with the majority attributing their very own sobriety to that model–the chronic relapsing “brain disease” with lifelong abstinence and 12-step spiritual recovery model.   As the “voice of addiction medicine,” the ASAM has nevertheless defined the dominant treatment paradigm in the United States.   ASAM doctors outnumber addiction psychiatrists by 4:1 and the movement is well funded.   Because addiction is defined as a “disease”, addicts must be “treated” (more often coercive than voluntary), and “cured” (defined as abstinent).  The billion dollar  assessment and treatment industry and the drug and alcohol testing industry  lucratively profits from this model which has grown to monopolize addiction treatment  in the United States.

The goal of the ABAM Foundation is to “gain recognition of Addiction Medicine as a medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).”   A monopoly defined by self-appointed experts without recognized  specialty training will soon likely Robber baron their way to being accepted as  a true specialty.Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.15.35 AM

Physician Health Programs, Regulatory Agencies, and Treatment Centers

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) meet with, assess, and monitor doctors who have been referred to them for substance use or other mental or behavioral health problems. Unless being monitored by one, PHP practices are unknown to most physicians and operate outside the scrutiny of the medical community.  Initially funded by State Medical Societies and staffed by volunteer physicians,  PHPs  served the dual function of helping sick doctors and protecting the public.

As the populations of ASAM physicians proliferated  in the 1980s, many  joined their state Physician Health Programs. PHP doctors who did not agree with the ASAM groupthink were gradually removed  and they  organized under the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP).  Other ASAM physicians found employment at treatment centers as staff physicians and medical directors.

The FSPHP cultivated a relationship with the  Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the state PHPs formed alliances with their  state medical boards. Promoting themselves as offering “treatment” rather than”punishment” they offered an alternative to disciplinary action.  They then began promoting their successful outcomes  in rehabilitating “impaired physicians”,  and this history can be seen by examining the archives of the Journal of Medical Regulation and similar  publications.  In 1995 the   Washington  PHP claimed a success rate of  95.4%,   Tennessee  claimed 93% and Alabama 90%.

Part of this success was attributed  to the specialized  treatment centers for doctors directed by their ASAM colleagues such as  Ridgeview Institute in Atlanta created by G. Douglas Talbott.  Talbott, who helped organize and serve as past president of the ASAM claimed a 92.3 percent recovery rate. He also put forth a Medical Urban Legend–the proposition that doctors were a different species, separate from the rest of society, who needed special treatment three times longer than anyone else.  Amazingly, this dicto simpliciter argument that can, in fact, be refuted simply by pointing it out  was allowed to enter regulatory medicine unopposed.  Simply because, sadly, no one ever pointed out the logical fallacy. It is now entrenched.    Three months or more of treatment is  standard of care for our profession. They did this by getting medical boards and the FSMB to accept fantasy as fact by relying on board members tendency to accept expert evidence at face value.

Physicians are unique only insofar as the unique elements required of the profession to become and be a physician such as going to medical school and completing the required board examinations.  That’s it.    I implore anyone to put forth any sound argument based on science and evidence that justifies a thrice lengthy stay in medical professionals.  Not gonna happen.   Thought stopping memes and logical fallacy is the best they have to offer.  And, unfortunately this type of  rabbling gibberish cuts the mustard in the regulatory medicine venue.   A “low-bar” evidentiary standard is not the problem.  If you look at the documentary evidence from a medico-historical perspective there never was a bar.  The FSMB has essentially given the impaired physicians movement carte blanche authority and unrestrained managerial prerogative.  A bar never even existed.  It’s a laissez-faire Lord of the Flies free-for-all.    The logical fallacy of appeal to authority–illegitimate and irrational authority.  Bamboozled by smoke and mirrors.

A 1995 issue of the FSMB publication  The Federal Bulletin: The Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline contains reports on eight  separate state  PHPs.   The “almost 90% success rate” was  applauded by the editor, who added  “cooperation and communication between the medical boards and the physician health programs must occur in an effort to protect the public while assisting impaired physicians in their recovery.”   And more recent reports suggest PHPs   reduce malpractice claims. They are now being promoted as a replicable model  to be used in other populations.

The problem is no one bothered to examine the methodology to discern the validity of these claims.  There has been no critical analysis or Cochrane type review of any of these studies which are invariably small, methodologically flawed, and biased.

The FSMB has accepted them as  expert authority and  their authoritative opinion as fact.  It  is this acceptance of faith without objective assessment that has allowed the ASAM and FSPH to advance their agenda. By  confusing ideological opinion  with professional knowledge, the FSMB and state Medical Boards have acted as willing gulls each step of the way. No counter-forces existed.  And they still don’t.   Junk science and unvalidated neuropsychological testing is used by these groups unconstrained and willfully.  There is no regulation, oversight, or accountability.  They are using polygraph testing (despite the AMA’s previous public policy statement deeming it junk) to both condemn “disruptive” surgeons and deem convicted pedophiles fit to return to work.  They have introduced junk-science in drug and alcohol testing and unvalidated “neuropsychological” testing to detect “character-defects” by getting regulatory agencies to accept the validity of these tests not by the Scientific Method or Evidence Based Research but by (to coin a term) “Regulatory Sanctification”

To paraphrase one FSPHP member,   “Who needs evidence-based medicine when the boards have already accepted these tests as valid?”  Who indeed?

The ideological bias and financial conflicts of interest between PHPs and the  treatment centers was also not recognized. It still isn’t.  The  spotlights are apparently all  on Big Pharma  in this regard.    Some sunlight needs to be exposed in the direction of the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and assessment industry as well.

Doctors  were held at Ridgeview three times longer than the rest of the population (and at three times the cost)  under threat of loss of licensure.   Although there is no evidence base or plausible explanation why an entire profession would have a three-times  longer length of stay than the rest of the population this continues to be the reality. There is no choice.

in 2011 The ASAM issued a Public Policy Statement on coordination between PHPs, regulatory agencies, and treatment providers recommending  that  only “PHP approved” treatment centers be used in the assessment and treatment of doctors.  It specifically excludes non “PHP -recognized” facilities.  And what defines a “PHP approved” treatment center?    In addition to finding essentially no oversight by the state medical society and medical board, a recent audit of the  North Carolina PHP found financial conflicts of interest and no  documented criteria for selecting the out of state treatment centers they used.  The common denominator the audit missed was that the 19  “PHP-approved” centers were all ASAM facilities just like Ridgeview whose medical directors can be seen on this list.

The appeal to authority logical fallacy has enabled the FSPHP to become the expert authority on physician impairment through the eyes of the medical boards.  It has also allowed them to increase their scope.

The FSMB House of Delegates adopted an updated Policy on Physician Impairment at their 2011 annual meeting distinguishing “impairment” and “illness”  stating that:

“Regulatory Agencies should recognize the PHP as their expert in all matters relating to licensed professionals with ‘potentially impairing illness.'”

According to the FSPHP, physician illness and impairment exist on a continuum with illness typically predating impairment, often by many years.”

The policy extends PHP authority to cover physical illnesses affecting cognitive, motor, or perceptive skills, disruptive physician behavior, and “process addiction” (compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, video gaming, and “workaholism”). It also defines “relapse without use” as “behavior without chemical use that is suggestive of impending relapse.”

G. Douglas Talbott defines  “relapse without use”  as  “emotional behavioral abnormalities” that often precede relapse or “in A A language –stinking thinking.”  AA language has entered the Medical Profession and no one even blinked.  It will get worse.

The ASAM has  monopolized addiction treatment in the United States.   It has imposed  it on doctors through the FSPHP.  The FSPHP political apparatus exerts a monopoly of force. It selects who will be monitored and dictates every aspect of what that entails.  It is a, in fact, a  rigged game.

Inherent in this model is the importance of external control.  It gives them power to exert control over the individual regardless of whether they need to be treated.

By bamboozling regulatory medicine this was accomplished.    And the maintenance of this relationship is necessary as this  presentation  by an FSPHP physician  warns, “guard this relationship jealously.”

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Moral Panics and Moral Crusades

By introducing and fueling moral panics the ASAM/FSPHP political apparatus has been able to expand in both scope and power.

The Medscape article “Drug Abuse Among Doctors:  Easy, Tempting, and Not Uncommon” published in the “Business of Medicine” section in January 2014 is characteristic example of the authoritative opinion, propaganda, and misinformation spun to maintain a pervasive climate of fear. Proof by anecdote.  Physicians are “5 times as likely as the general public to misuse prescription drugs” according to Lisa Merlo, PhD.  “Given the epidemic of prescription addiction sweeping the nation, that’s a grim statistic.”

Described as a “researcher at the University of Florida’s Center for Addiction Research and Education,” Merlo’s research involving 55 doctors being monitored by their state Physician Health Program published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in October 2013 found “most physicians who abuse prescription drugs” do so to “relieve stress and physical or emotional pain.”  Nowhere is it mentioned on Medscape that Merlo is the Director of Research for the Florida state PHP Professionals Research Network.   Physician access to medications through prescriptions,  “networks of professional contacts, and proximity to hospital and clinic supplies” gives them “rare access to powerful, highly sought-after drugs” says Marvin D. Seppala, chief medical officer at Hazelden.  This access “sets them apart” and “not only foment a problem” but”perpetuate it” says Seppala.  “Access “becomes an addict’s top priority” and they “will do everything in their power to ensure it continues.”  

“They’re often described as the best workers in the hospital,” he says. “They’ll overwork to compensate for other ways in which they may be falling short, and to protect their supply. They’ll sign up for extra call and show up for rounds they don’t have to do.”-Dr. Marvin D. Seppala

Physicians are intelligent and skilled at hiding their addictions, he says. Few, no matter how desperate, seek help of their own accord.”  In reality this is absurd.  And if you look at any of the current “moral panics” that are being used to suggest random suspicion-less drug testing of all doctors or promoting the Physician Health Programs as the “New Paradigm” you will inevitably find a doctor, just like Marv Seppala who is on this list as  an author or interviewee.  It is a given.

The terms  “impaired physician” and  the “disruptive physician”  are used as labels of deviancy.  As deviants who allegedly threaten the very core of medicine (patient care) and  the business of medicine (profit)  they must be stopped at all costs.   Belief in the seriousness of the situation justifies intolerance and unfair treatment.  The evidentiary standard is lowered.  Aided by a  “conspiracy of silence” among doctors in which impaired colleagues are not reported  necessitates identification of them by any means necessary.   Increase the grand scale of the hunt.

In this way these front-groups have successfully acted as moral entrepreneurs to make and enforce rules and put forth new definitions and mandates that serve their own interests.     A retrospective non -blinded non-randomized cohort study with serious underlying methodological errors involving 904 physicians being monitored by PHPs is now being used to “set the standard for recovery.”

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Across the Country doctors are going to the media,  law enforcement, the AGO, and the ACLU only to be turned a deaf ear.   Many consider this a “parochial” issue best handled by the medical community. Doctors reporting crimes are turned back over to the very perpetrators of the crimes.   The Medical Societies and professional organizations contribute to the problem by willful ignorance.   Accusations are used to disregard the claims of the accused.   It is a system of institutional injustice that is driving many doctors to suicide.  Hopeless, helpless, and feeling entrapped many are taking this route.  And no one is talking about it.   This cannot be avoided any longer.

The next target is the “aging physician.”   And as they have done with the “impaired” and “disruptive” physician” the FSPHP and their affiliates are setting the stage for another “moral crusade.”

  1. Cohen S. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creatio of the Mods and Rockers (New Edition). Oxford, U.K.: Martin Robertson; 1980.
  2. Becker H. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press; 1963.
  3. Hall SC, Critcher C, Jefferson T, Clark J, Roberts B. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Macmillan; 1978.

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What is a policy entrepreneur?

stewart_1In order to understand the current incarnation of Physician Health Programs (PHPs)  it is important to understand the concept of “policy entrepreneurship” in the  evolution of these programs since the 1980s.

Once this is understood it is easy to see how moral entrepreneurship, moral panics, moral crusades and “bent-science” were used to form  public policy. rules, and regulations in the profession of medicine.   The  historical, cultural and professional context of this can be pieced together by using the recently archived Journal of Medical Regulation  (the peer-reviewed publication of the Federation of State Medical Boards) as a template.

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

From pages 271-2 of Understanding Public Policy

For example, ‘policy entrepreneur’ is used by Kingdon (1984: 21; 104) to describe actors who use their knowledge of the process to further their own policy ends. They ‘lie in wait in and around government with their solutions at hand, waiting for problems to float by to which they can attach their solutions, waiting for a development in the political stream they can use to their advantage’ (Kingdon, 1984: 165–6). Entrepreneurs may be elected politicians, leaders of interest groups or merely unofficial spokespeople for particular causes. They are people with the knowledge, power, tenacity and luck to be able to exploit windows of opportunity and heightened levels of attention to policy problems to promote their ‘pet solutions’ to policymakers (see also Jones, 1994: 196 on their ability to reframe issues).

John’s (1999) treatment of entrepreneurs is similar, but he perhaps replaces the image…

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Policy and Regulatory Decision Making in the Medical Profession: A Framework to Identify the influence of Special Interest Groups and “Bent” Science

content-1 In  Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research 1  Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner describe how special interest groups scheme to advance their own economic or ideological goals by using distorted or “bent” science to influence legal, regulatory and public health policy.

The authors describe a “separatist view” of science and policy that assumes scientific research is sufficiently reliable for public policy deliberations and legal proceedings when it reaches them.  This is illustrated as a pipeline in which it is presumed  the scientific community has properly vetted the information flow through rigorous peer-review and professional oversight.  The final product that exits the pipeline is understood to be unbiased and produced in accordance with the professional norms and procedures of science.   The reliability, integrity and validity of the final product is indubitably accepted.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.49.27 AMThe separatist  view does not consider the possibility that the scientific work exiting the pipeline could be intentionally shaped and contaminated by biasing influences as it flows through the pipeline.  When this occurs the final product exiting the pipeline is distorted or “bent” and bent science can result in bad decision making and bad policy.

Bent science starts with a pre-determined outcome and works backward from a desired result. It is not true science. Those orchestrating the deception (“benders”) use a variety of tactics and strategies to shape, package and spin science to support their own hidden agenda and suppress opposing science.

Benders attempt to hide, dismiss and debunk contrarian research and unsupportive science.  Benders will attack and harass the science and scientists that pose a threat to their interests. Using carefully crafted studies designed to confirm a desired outcome, the pre-determined conclusions are subsequently promoted and publicized to the relevant stakeholders who are often unable ( or sometimes unwilling) to discern real science from junk-science.

Misinformation, propaganda, and deception are disseminated in a variety of venues. Public relations firms are used to manipulate public perception and freelance writers are hired  brandish favorable consensus statements.  Authoritative reviews and critiques are ghostwritten under the names of  “outside experts” who profit both monetarily and by adding a high-profile publication to their resume.

Opinion is paraded as fact and with a dearth of professional oversight the charade usually goes unnoticed and unopposed.

Data-dredging, cherry picking, confirmatory bias, confirmatory distortion, fabrication, falsification, exaggeration, and a whole host of deceptive tactics are used to work backward from an already determined result.

Any information that contradicts the answer is manipulated, undermined, suppressed or downplayed; even if it is the result of real science and evidence-based research; even if it is the truth.  Professional procedure, protocol and ethics are off the table.  It is an underhanded free-for-all. Bare knuckle boxing. Trash your opponents work and label it junk-science. Undermine the integrity of your opponents.  Use ad hominem attacks to question the opponents motives. Claim the scientists are hacks on the take.  Start rumors about them. Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.50.32 AM Loudly claim you are the one who is evidence based. Proclaim professionalism and authority.  Quibble. Move the goalpost.   Nit-pick and split hairs.  Proclaim over and over and over again you are the one who is evidence based.

And the problem is it usually works.  It is an unfair playing field.  When no meaningful barriers are in place to detect cheating and identify cheaters they usually win.

Bending science can have serious and sometimes horrific consequences and multiple examples including the Tobacco and pharmaceutical industry are given in the book.

Calling for immediate action  to reduce the role that bent science plays in regulatory and judicial decision making, the authors emphasize the assistance of the scientific community is necessary in designing and implementing reform.

“Shedding even a little light on how advocates bend policy -relevant science could go a long way toward remedying these problems.  Indeed, precisely because the advocates have overtaken the law in this area, heightened attention to the social costs of bending science could itself precipitate significant change.”

But there are difficulties in challenging bent science including a general lack of recognition of the problem. With an absence of counter-studies to oppose deliberately manufactured ends-oriented research this would be expected.

Bent science involves the deliberate manufacturing of a pool of  information designed to promote a specific agenda.  A level playing field would require a pool of opposing research specifically addressing that agenda.  In reality this requires both the incentive and the power to do so–an unlikely scenario short of an equally well funded competitor or sufficient public concern about the problem.

In fact counter-forces are often nonexistent. Investigatory techniques developed and promoted by the FBI crime lab (such as firearms identification and intoxication testing) is one example described in the book.  These techniques evolved with little meaningful oversight from the larger scientific community and could be badly bent but there is no meaningful pool of information to disprove them.  The authors aptly state that   “defendants in most criminal cases lack resources to mount effective challenges, much less undertake their own counter-research.”

And part of the “art” of bending involves swaying public opinion and the mainstream media is typically aligned with the benders so opposing viewpoints seldom make the headlines.

Additionally, there is no meaningful oversight or avenue to pursue accountability. No systems exist to prevent, catch and publicly expose bent-science or those who bend science.

The influence of special interest groups on the practice of medicine is unknown.  No one has examined the role of bent science in the rules, regulations, policies and decisions made by those who are in charge of the standards of medical practice and professional behavior of doctors but as a regulated profession governed by the  decisions and policies of regulators it is certainly possible.

Regulation of the Medical Profession

Alexis de Toqueville once observed that a key feature of American government was the decentralized character of administration. “Written laws exist in America,” he wrote, “and one sees the daily execution of them; but although everything moves regularly, the mover can nowhere be discovered. The hand which directs the social machine is invisible.”2

Administrative law is the body of law that allows for the creation of public regulatory agencies and contains all of the statutes, judicial decisions and regulations that govern them. Administrative agencies implement their powers in the form of rules, regulations, orders and decisions.   State medical boards are the regulatory agencies responsible for the licensure and discipline of physicians. They grant the right to practice medicine in the form of a medical license and each state has Medical Practice Act that governs and defines the practice of medicine. The medical board is empowered to take action against a doctor for substandard care, unprofessional behavior and other violations as defined by the state Medical Practice Act.

Administrative Code governs the licensure and disciplinary process and the State Administrative Procedure Act governs the legal process (due process, discovery, etc.). Regulatory changes are enacted through procedural, interpretive and legislative rules.

Both medical practice acts and administrative procedure acts are subject to change.  Changes in medical practice acts can redefine what is acceptable practice and what constitutes professional behavior. This can increase the power and control these agencies have over doctors both professionally and socially.

Changes in Administrative practice acts can decrease what rights a doctor has if this power and control is abused.  Changes in the wording of administrative code and administrative practice acts can have profound implications in these rights including due-process, timeliness of being heard, rights to appeal decisions and time-constraints for judicial review.

And when these changes occur they do so silently.  The hand that directs the machine is indeed invisible.  The consequences, however, are not.  These changes not only impact those touched by the hand but can have a systemic impact on the entire profession.

State medical practice acts as well as administrative practice acts and code are susceptible to change and therefore susceptible to the influence of special interest groups benefitting from such change.  Regulation of the medical profession is thus susceptible to bent science.

Bent Science and the Medical Profession

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The impact of bent science on the regulation of the medical profession has not been studied. As a profession governed by regulatory agencies medicine is certainly not immune to the influence of special interest groups who could in turn influence public policy and regulatory decisions, rules and regulations to benefit their own interests.

Making sound decisions about regulation calls for an understanding of the problem it is intended to solve. This demands methodologically sound science and evidence-based facts arrived at through rigorous peer review and professional oversight. The science on which policy decisions are made must be reliable and unbiased. Legitimate policy must be based on recognized and legitimate institutions and experts.

If the information regulatory agencies rely on to discipline doctors and protect the public is unreliable then serious consequences can occur.

It would be beneficial to look for changes in public policy, guidelines, rules and regulations involving the medical profession and examine the reasons behind them. When did the problem present? Who presented it? Was it based on methodologically sound and accurate data?  What organizations do the problem presenters represent?  What organizations or individuals aligned or associated with the presenters might benefit?  What are the consequences?  Who is harmed?

Howard Becker describes the role of “moral entrepreneurs,” who crusade for making and enforcing rules that benefit their own interests by bringing them to the attention of the public and those in positions of power and authority under the guise of righting a society evil.8   

The mechanics and mentality is similar to the science benders and, as discussed below,  they use some of the same techniques.

Moral entrepreneurs take the lead in labeling a particular behavior deviant and spreading this label throughout society.  They associate the behavior of some group with a society evil, affix an easily recognizable label to it and then express the conviction that the evil must be combated.  Labeled as being outside the central core values of consensual society, the deviants in the designated group are perceived as posing a threat to both the values of society and society itself.

Activities can rise to the level of ‘social problems” when harm or danger is attributed to those activities and governmental powers are called upon to put an end to those harms. Bent science requires convincing others of a viewpoint and the likelihood of this occurring increases when the activity that is identified as a problem resonates with underlying societal concerns and anxieties.  The problem is then endorsed by experts who give legitimacy to such claims.3,4 This legitimacy results attracts media attention which further enforces support from both the public and policy makers.5,6  

As a result any bent science directed at regulatory and public policy decision making should be clearly visible.

The sociologist Stanley Cohen used the term ”moral panic” to characterize the amplification of deviance by the media, the public, and agents of social control.7 According to cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the media obtain their information from the primary definers of social reality in authoritative positions and amplify the perceived threat to the existing social order. The authorities then act to eliminate the threat.9 The dominant ideas or ideologies are reproduced by relying on the opinions of the defining authority and then spread through the media.

An internet search of what labels have been affixed to doctors in association with a threat to society there are three.  A google search of “impaired physician” yields 20, 600 results; “disruptive physician” yields 17, 400 results; and “aging physician” yields 27, 800 results. A large number of these articles, opinion pieces and reviews associate impaired, disruptive and aging physicians with patient death and other adverse events, medical error, and malpractice.   The labels affixed to these physicians have been characterized as a major threat to public health and the rhetorical tools used in many of these articles seems aimed at increasing public anxiety.

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A PubMed search yields 154 results for the “impaired physician”; 47 results for the “disruptive physician”; and 19 results for the “aging physician.”  Many of these are opinion pieces written by the same group of physicians and aimed at hospital administrators, regulators and those involved in the legal or business aspects of medicine.

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There is, in fact, no evidence based research that associates the impaired, disruptive or aging physician with any adverse events. The “impaired,” “disruptive” and “aging” physician labels  as evinced by a quick google search seem escalated far beyond the level warranted by the existing evidence.

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The “impaired” and “disruptive” labels have taken on the status of moral panic and the “aging” label, which is being associated with cognitive impairment, seems to be heading in that direction. The number of articles being published and lectures being given on the dangers of cognitively impaired doctors is increasing.  It has not yet reached the level of public awareness the impaired and disruptive have.

To acknowledge that the current level of concern about these labels is exaggerated is not to suggest they do not exist. They do.  But the disparity between the evidence-base, or lack thereof, and the level of concern warrants further investigation.

To be clear,  doctors who are impaired by drug and alcohol abuse need to be removed from practice to protect the public and receive treatment;  doctors who are abusive to others or engage in behavior that threatens patient care need to be held accountable for their actions; and doctors who are cognitively impaired due to dementia need to be removed from practice and evaluated by the proper specialists.  If a diagnosis of dementia is confirmed then they need to be removed from practice.

What is the motivation behind the “impaired,” “disruptive” and “aging” physician labels and the multiple articles linking these labels to patient harm and medical error?  There is no data driven evidence so where does it come from?   Could moral entrepreneurs be behind it?  If so then there should be evidence  of bent science and to examine this we must look for evidence that these labels have been used to influence regulatory decisions, rules, regulations and policy.

And with the recently archived Journal of Medical Regulation this task can be easily accomplished.

The Journal of Medical Regulation as Timeline and Framework for Policy Evaluation

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is a national not-for profit organization that gives guidance to state medical boards through public policy development and recommendations on issues pertinent to medical regulation. Shortly after its founding in 1912, the Federation of State Medical Boards began publishing a quarterly journal addressing issues relating to medical licensing and regulation of doctors. First published in 1913 as the Quarterly of the Federation of State Boards of the United States, the publication has undergone several name changes and publication schedules. From1921 to 1999 it was published monthly as the Federation Bulletin. In 1999 it was changed to the quarterly Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline and in 2010 was revised to the Journal of Medical Regulation The Journal of Medical Regulation is in the process of archiving all issues dating back to 1913.

Presently every paper dating back to 1967 is available online and the archival organization and availability of full articles published sequentially over the past half-century is historically invaluable.   As the official journal of the national organization involved in the medical licensing and regulation of doctors, this archival organization allows for an unskewed and impartial examination in both historical and cultural context. We can identify when particular issues and problems were presented, who presented them and how.

The Journal of Medical Regulation archives provides a structured context to examine these issues in their historical and cultural context.  This facilitates a retrospective analysis.  As a timeline it allows identification of when the issues were presented.  It also allows us to look at the events preceding the problem, who benefited from them, and the consequences. Could these factors be involved in influencing the regulation of medicine and shaping the medical profession? Could bent science have been involved in regulatory and administrative changes that have significantly impacted the rights and well-being of doctors and how the profession of medicine is defined?  Could some of the current problems such as the marked increase in physician suicide, sham-peer review, and physician burnout be the result of bent science?  If bent science is contributing to bad policy and bad decision making then it need to be exposed and addressed.  Bent science is bad medicine and if it exists then we need to urgently shine a light on it.

  1. McGarity TO, Wagner WE. Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2008.
  2. de Toqueville A. Democracy in America. New York: Penguin Books; 1984.
  3. Blumer H. Social Problems as Collective Behavior. Social Problems. 1971;18:298-306.
  4. Stone DA. Causal Stories and the formation of policy agendas. Political Science Quarterly. 1989;104:280-300.
  5. Best J. Threatened Children, Rhetoric and Concern about Child Victims. Chicago University of Chicago Press; 1990.
  1. Gerbner G, Gross L. The scarey World of TV’s heavy viewer. Psychology Today. 1976;9(89):41-45.
  2. Cohen S. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (New Edition). Oxford, U.K.: Martin Robertson; 1980.
  3. Becker H. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press; 1963.
  4. Hall SC, Critcher C, Jefferson T, Clark J, Roberts B. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Macmillan; 1978.

 

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