US KY: Doctor Goes On Trial On Charges He Prescribed Oxycontin Thu, 17 Jan 2002 Courier-Journal, The (KY)
DOCTOR GOES ON TRIAL ON CHARGES HE PRESCRIBED OXYCONTIN WITHOUT MEDICAL REASON PIKEVILLE, Ky. -- A Harlan County physician was either so moneyhungry that he handed out prescriptions for the painkiller OxyContin to get rich, or he was a sympathetic doctor who didn't want his patients to suffer. Those were the contrasting pictures that a prosecutor and a defense attorney painted of Dr. Ali Sawaf yesterday in the opening day of his trial in U.S. District Court in Pikeville. Sawaf, 60, has been in jail since Feb. 1 on charges of prescribing drugs without a legitimate medical purpose. He faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted on the federal charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger West said Sawaf was seeing up to 100 patients a day. West said in his opening statement that Sawaf conducted no physical exams and took no medical histories before writing prescriptions for an assortment of painkillers, including OxyContin, which has been blamed for dozens of overdose deaths in Kentucky. ''It's all about money,'' West said. Authorities contend that street-level dealers sought out doctors who would prescribe OxyContin, which is intended for terminal cancer patients and chronic pain sufferers. If taken properly, the drug's ingredients are released slowly into the body. But abusers circumvent the time-release by crushing the pills and inhaling or injecting the powder to get the same kind of euphoric high that heroin brings. In the illegal drug trade, authorities said, one 80-milligram OxyContin pill can fetch $80. Last February local, state and federal authorities joined forces for Kentucky's largest-ever drug raid, which resulted in more than 200 arrests on charges of trafficking in OxyContin. Sawaf, arrested days before the regional sweep, plans to testify in his own behalf. His trial is expected to last about two weeks. His attorney, Russell Alred of Harlan, said Sawaf will explain to jurors how he chose to become a physician after watching his father die a painful death with cancer. Alred said Sawaf was a caring physician who wanted to ease pain for his patients, many of whom were injured coal miners and loggers. ''This man, as a physician, doesn't want to see his patients suffer,'' Alred said. ''He wanted to help them.'' When undercover officers began to investigate Sawaf, Alred said, they came to him complaining of severe pain from previous injuries. In one case, the defense attorney said, a deputy working on the case told Sawaf that an officer posing as his wife was addicted to OxyContin and asked for a prescription for her. Alred said evidence will show that Sawaf agreed to give that prescription to appease her until she could get started on a treatment program. ''All the prescriptions in question were written to police officers,'' Alred said. ''That's what you will see in this case, police officers lying to a physician. . . . They really pulled the wool over this man's eyes.''