Forest Tennant, who has been treating and researching pain at his clinic in West Covina, Calif., since 1975, is well-known as an expert in the field, having published more than 200 articles in medical journals and given more than 130 presentations at professional conferences. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, all of that was an elaborate cover for drug trafficking.
Or so you would have to surmise from the affidavit supporting the search warrant that the DEA served on Tennant’s offices and home last week, which describes “invalid prescriptions,” “red flags of diversion and fraud” and “combinations of drugs that are consistent with ‘pill mill’ prescribing practices.” The allegations and insinuations show how the DEA has tried to criminalize differences of opinion about pain treatment, encouraging doctors to think about their legal exposure first and their patients second.
Tennant says the “red flags” perceived by the DEA are consistent with a practice like his, which specializes in treating severe, intractable pain caused by conditions such as arachnoiditis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy and post-viral neuropathy. “We only take people who have failed the standard treatments,” he says.
Tennant’s willingness to take hard cases explains why some of his patients live in other states, a fact the DEA considers suspicious. “We only see them in conjunction with their local doctors,” he says.
In addition to severe pain, Tennant’s patients often have metabolic abnormalities that make them less sensitive to opioids and have developed tolerance after years of pain treatment. Those factors explain the doses that struck the DEA as suspiciously high and the drug combinations it deemed reckless.
By the time Tennant starts treating them, his patients are already taking large doses of opioids, often in combination with muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines. “We didn’t start anybody on high…