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What Responsibility Do Lawyers Have in the Opioid Epidemic?

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at March 10, 2017

I never sought out to be a “treatment facility” attorney or a “sober home” attorney. To be candid, when the firm in Delray where I was working started taking on addiction treatment facilities as clients, the social backlash was negative, harsh, and instantaneous. I had seen my hard-fought career and reputation upended by a mere business decision by one of my law partners. I had a family to support. I was just hitting my best earning years as a lawyer.

But rather than run away from the issue, I found myself faced with an issue of social policy that continued to kicked down the road and a subject for which open hostility, prejudice, and discrimination appears to be accepted.

One of my favorite poems now hangs on the wall in the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Maybe because of my Jewish heritage, this poem (written by German Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group) always resonated with me.

You see, I’m not in recovery, but I do believe strongly in social justice (that certainly hasn’t stopped society from continuing to question me for representing “those people”, or the Recovery Community from “appreciating me” but not fully accepting me because I never attended an AA meeting). Still, my guidepost tends to be the Rules of Ethics for Florida Lawyers (referred to as the “Rules Regulating the Florida Bar”) as to how to counsel my treatment center and sober home clients, recognizing these people have a direct impact on the lives of the sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, of someone else.

A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

This is the “Preamble” to the ethics rules regulating the behavior of lawyers. It should be noted there are no such rules or written ethical guidelines for any non-clinical personnel associated with a treatment center or recovery residence.

One of the last sections of the Preamble seems something that both the treatment industry and its regulating bodies should take note of:

The rules presuppose a larger legal context shaping the lawyer’s role. That context includes court rules and statutes relating to matters of licensure, laws defining specific obligations of lawyers, and substantive and procedural law in general. Compliance with the rules, as with all law in an open society, depends primarily upon understanding and voluntary compliance, secondarily upon reinforcement by peer and public opinion, and finally, when necessary, upon enforcement through disciplinary proceedings. The rules do not, however, exhaust the moral and ethical considerations that should inform a lawyer, for no worthwhile human activity can be completely defined by legal rules. The rules simply provide a framework for the ethical practice of law. The comments are sometimes used to alert lawyers to their responsibilities under other law.

“…for no worthwhile human activity can be completely defined by legal rules…” Isn’t that what the higher calling of caring for people with Substance Use Disorder is supposed to be about?

As I am often heard ranting about, we cannot and would not regulate medical surgery procedures and the hospitals where the procedures are administered, but then turn a blind uncaring eye to where the patient is taken for post-surgical recovery. That would be reckless, as well as financially irresponsible. Our society would never tolerate that. But we tolerate “flop houses” boarding kids while in “treatment.”

But as to lawyers, we seem to let them slide from being a part of this parade (similar to the billing companies who have quietly made millions in this industry). We don’t hold them accountable for their role in facilitating the treadmill of treatment associated with the opioid epidemic. These “healthcare attorneys” are simply using sophisticated methodologies to enable the continued raping of our kids, insurance benefits, and our society, and are laughing all the way to the bank.

Make no mistake – insurance companies are illegally hostile to drug and alcohol treatment (as is the current Congress in the redrafting of the “American Health Care Act of 2017”) and must be held accountable if the Parity Act is going to be worth more than the paper it is written on. But the lawyers who claim to be “healthcare” attorneys need to take a step back from merely facilitating their client’s wishes and take into account and consideration the toll on human lives their actions are creating.

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