To date, most government attention on illegal performance enhancing drugs has been on baseball. The U.S. Congress held extensive hearings about allegations of steroid abuse by MLB players in 2005. Senator Mitchell issued a detailed report that acknowledged the U.S.A. has a problem and witness intimidation tactics are a big part of the problem.
Now the U.S. Department of Justice has joined a claim against Lance Armstrong that the U.S. Postal Service filed because it was the lead sponsor of Armstrong’s cycling team -- and paid a lot for it. This is the first large case of its kind where government lawyers could justify the expense of going to court.
It might seem like a coincidence that this case is unfolding just as prosecutors are charging former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor with fraud for diverting money from a charity to pay for a billion dollar gambling habit after a cover-up of medical conditions causing impulse control breakdowns. But both cases are important steps to reversing the breakdown in self-regulation by the medical community and the aggressive silencing of witnesses that makes these schemes possible.
The lead plaintiff, the U.S. Postal Service, knows this better than most other organizations. U.S. Postal Service investigators have been on the front lines in investigating and stopping unauthorized inter-state shipments of prescription drugs. This link describes the interception of over a thousand pounds of medical marijuana from California by a 28 person syndicate. And entire teams of U.S. Postal Service workers have themselves been indicted for drug trafficking.
U.S. doctors are almost never held accountable for patient drug abuse or complicity in cover-ups like the Lance Armstrong and Maureen O’Connor cases According to a Reuter’s research report, the prosecution rate is 3 to 4 cases a year for the entire United States, although annual deaths related to prescription drug overdoses and steroid abuse are in the range of 15,000. If a state medical board investigates, the hearings are kept private and no prospective patients or the media can find out about the results. Similarly, no journalists could investigate the medical claim of former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor that she had a brain tumor which interfered with her self-control to stop compulsive gambling. At this point, even the White House Press Corps is complaining about inadequate transparency. By contrast, 2016 Olympics host Brazil prosecutes about 700 doctors a year, in a country half the size of the U.S.
The devil in the details, literally. The low prosecution rates for doctors mean that it is almost impossible an American doctor will be prosecuted for falsifying medical records. So it is a very a simple matter to make a witness’ insurance costs increase 300% or more -- or make sure they cannot get medical insurance at all. While there are laws against witness intimidation on the books, they only apply to individuals who have actually been named as witnesses in a case already filed. That is an expensive proposition and usually does not happen. The results speak for themselves: at least eleven cyclists knew that Lance Armstrong was regularly using steroids and he was able to coerce them into silence for a decade. Now, increased scrutiny of witness intimidation tactics is calling federal government attention to the so-called “compassionate coercion” supported by doctors at the “Treatment Advocacy Center,” a medical organization founded by and advertising pitchman with no medical credentials.
This year, the U.S. government is starting to realize how expensive this can be. U.S. anti-doping agency chief executive Travis Tygart has called the doping by Armstrong and the postal service teams a ''massive economic fraud.''
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