To the editor:
In the article printed in the Wednesday, Sept. 19, edition of the Williamson Daily News, Judge John Copenhaver called the six-month prison sentence given to Diane Shafer for writing 118,445 prescriptions ‘a warning’. However, the sentence seems more like an invitation for other medical professionals to become legal drug dealers with minimal consequences.
While many people have legitimate need for painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, doctors are meant to validate a patient’s condition and serve as gatekeepers for what are potentially dangerous drugs. When a doctor disregards that role, they should be held to a higher standard by the court.
Of course, six months in prison is no walk in the park, but considering Shafer sought greed over the Hippocratic Oath and as a doctor, knew the addictive effects of the medications she prescribed, the consequences should be much more severe.
What’s even more disturbing is the seemingly double life Shafer led. Attempting to help the community while ruining it, running a ‘pill mill’ while also running for a seat in the state senate.
And all the while she abused her role as a gatekeeper, record numbers abused prescription drugs, and in some cases, died from overdoses.
According to data from the WVDHHR, from 2001 to 2010 Mingo County’s prescription drug overdose rate rose 140 percent. From 2002 to 2010, Shafer–or more accurately Shafer’s office–wrote approximately 10 prescriptions an hour, one every six minutes, raking in what may be in excess of $7 million.
During that same time period, 3,744 West Virginians died from overdose, 99 of them from Mingo County. Although those deaths are not directly attributed to Shafer, she profited from and fueled an epidemic, made more money than most of us would ever see in multiple lifetimes off of the backs and bodies of her patients, fed addictions, and turned the phrase “controlled substance” into an oxymoron.
We may never know the full extent of the damage directly or indirectly caused by Shafer’s greed, but a six-month prison sentence and a $5,000 fine seem like slaps on the wrist for such gross negligence by someone who presented herself as a pillar of the community.
— Joshua Murphy
Assistant Director, STOP Coalition