The 2019 Event with Major Impact for 100 Million Americans

This article, in a slightly edited form, first appeared on Pain News Network on December 28, 2019.

Revised Saturday, December 29, 2019, 9:00 AM (Eastern Time).

The demise of the American Pain Society (APS) in June of 2019 was a major blow to forty-two years of pain research advancement. APS enjoyed an unimpeachable reputation as an academic, scholarly organization and an icon of scientific integrity.

However, with the opportunity to make billions of dollars, plaintiffs’ attorneys targeted professional organizations like APS as complicit in creating the opioid crisis. They labeled them as front organizations for allegedly deceptive opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As implausible as the claims were, it was a real problem for APS and other professional organizations and individuals who care for patients with pain. There were more than a thousand claims filed against myriad defendants. I don’t know the exact number of claims filed against APS, but I was named in several hundred of those claims. The plaintiffs required records about, and responses to, each claim. Complying with that many demands proved to be a financial burden APS could not survive. I, too, have struggled to deal with these baseless attacks on my integrity and resources.

More than 2,000 governmental bodies and private attorneys, along with national media, have judged and found blameworthy those who have devoted their careers to helping people in pain.

Even well-heeled companies such as Purdue Pharma are not always able to weather the financial and administrative burden of responding to thousands of legal claims. In fact, lawsuits dealt a death blow to Purdue Pharma. The manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in September 2019. Similar to APS, Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy was precipitated by the need to defend itself against more than 2,600 lawsuits.

It strikes me as an injustice when small organizations like APS cannot defend themselves in court due to the overpowering financial and political forces converging to allege spurious conspiracies and dubious claims of wrongdoing.

Other Injustices

In the past decade, the number of providers who have been criminally charged for prescribing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose has increased dramatically. Some were appropriately charged, but others were caught up in a social fever to cast blame for the destruction that substance abuse can cause.

Providers are easy targets. It is much simpler to accuse pain doctors such as Mark Ibsen of wrongdoing than it would be to try to correct social disparities that drive the demand for drugs of abuse. I have attempted to defend many such providers who eventually decided to plea bargain because of the enormous legal costs they would incur if they continued their defense.

And Justice for Some

Bryan A. Stevenson shines a light on the naked injustices that treat the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent in his memoir, Just Mercy. Stevenson shows that racial prejudice fuels injustice, but the lack of resources to secure adequate defense makes the process painfully unfair and the outcome predestined.

Another injustice was in the national news some years ago. You may remember that Richard Jewell was unfairly accused of a bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Jewell wasn’t just an ordinary innocent bystander. He was a hero who had attempted to thwart the bombing. A movie about this event was released in December 2019. The media essentially convicted Jewell before he was charged with anything. After several months of cruel media persecution and harassment, the truth emerged, and he was exonerated.

Veteran newscaster Tom Brokaw recently apologized for prematurely delivering the message to his viewers that Jewell was guilty. NBC reportedly paid Jewell $500,000 for contributing to his suffering, but this is a rare consequence when such injustices occur. APS is not likely to receive either vindication or reparations.

The Weaknesses of Our Court System

Groundless accusations, media support of the accusations, and the enormous financial backing of a false narrative exploit the weaknesses of our civil and criminal systems.

Two of the most powerful forces in America are the media and the government. When they join together to fight evil, they can strengthen a democracy and serve the people well.

But if they combine forces to propagate a false narrative, it is nearly impossible for the innocent to survive the damage on a personal or a professional level. The catastrophic results can undermine the integrity of our legal system and free press.

The media’s framing of an issue, whether factual or not, changes attitudes and even public policies if it is repeated often enough. The media has certainly carried the water for the plaintiffs against organizations like APS.

Most disheartening is that, in the case of APS, the harm goes far beyond the organization and its scientific members. One hundred million Americans with pain and their families are the ultimate victims of APS’s collapse. The harm will not be confined to 2019 but will extend for decades into the future.


Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth,” and co-producer of the documentary,It Hurts Until You Die.” Opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views or policy of PRA Health Sciences.

You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.




  1. Connie Martin on January 12, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Another fabulous article Dr. Webster. As one of your avid and grateful followers, I can always count on getting the most updated, factual information from you, as well as knowledge of what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in reading your postings. Throughout this entire fiasco perpetrated on Chronic Pain Patients, initially by the CDC, I noticed that the media was constantly promoting the same rhetoric and false information, as the draconian mindsets of those who linked Opioid overdoses in any way to the legitimate medications Chronic Pain Patients received. Things have changed and not for the better, that’s for sure. Now, I’m hearing countless Radio commercial touting the newest Opioid Rehab facilities. Those are new and lucky them, they now get to make money too off of this well-intended, but horribly misguided attempt to curb Opioid overdoses. These are over and above the countless, meritless lawsuits. Shame on the media for just blindly backing the government, and not doing a thorough investigation into all sides of this issue. It’s obvious that they didn’t and still don’t, because I’m not seeing or hearing anything in the media close to what the truth is about this issue. Frustrating and alarming. Thank you again Dr. Webster.

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