Tuesday, September 11, 2001
By the time Dr. Phillip Leveque arrived for his 61st Hood River High School class reunion last week, he had garnered more notoriety than any of this peers.
And most of that within the past month.
Leveque has recently come under fire for signing more than 40 percent of the approved medical-marijuana card applications in Oregon. But the Molalla resident, a native of Hood River, said he has taken that action simply to make chronic pain sufferers more comfortable -- not enable them to get "high."
"There are not two sides to this issue, there is only one and I consider it my moral obligation as a physician to help my patients feel better," said Leveque.
He believes the current uproar over his preference of using a natural painkiller rather than addictive narcotics is being driven by money. He said marijuana is currently available "on the street" and has not been carried by most major pharmaceutical companies since it was prohibited in 1937. And he can't find any reason that marijuana use would be more harmful than chemicals.
"This is crazy because some people have had to be on prescription drugs for years and sometimes the allowable dosages don't even control their level of pain," said Leveque.
He said because medical-marijuana has a street value of about $400 per ounce, long-term patients learn to economize by using only two or three "hits" to alleviate their symptoms.
"They are not into this to get 'high', they are looking for a way to relieve their pain," said Leveque.
And the 77-year-old osteopath understands what it is like to live with chronic pain. Ten years ago, he was injected with an accidental overdose of spinal anesthetic during a prostrate operation that has left him with a burning sensation in both his tailbone and feet.
However, he doesn't use medical-marijuana to relieve his own discomfort because he is concerned that would give his critics the opportunity to say he is just championing his own cause.
To qualify for medical-marijuana under Oregon's two-year-old law, patient's must be suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, agitation from Alzheimer's or a medical condition that has wasting, spasms, seizures, or severe nausea and/or pain.
Leveque has signed more authorizations in the state for medical marijuana than any other doctor. Because more than 1,500 applications have been submitted with his signature, state health authorities have launched an inquiry into Leveque's patient records. He has refused to turn over the medical files on 800 of his patients who still have applications pending because he said it will violate doctor-patient confidentiality.
His cause is being championed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Voter Power, the citizens group that backed Oregon's marijuana ballot initiative. The two activist groups are concerned that the state requirement violates doctor-patient confidence. Until that issue is resolved, most likely in court, health authorities have adopted temporary rules that require applicants to agree to have their medical records examined before they can receive a marijuana card. These rules also require the attending physician to review medical records, conduct a physical exam, develop a treatment plan and provide follow-up care that is documented in an ongoing patient file.
"Some of these people live eight hours or more away and to require them to make regular personal visits to see me is ridiculous," said Leveque.
The state Board of Medical Examiners is conducting a separate investigation into an allegation that Leveque authorized a medical marijuana card without adequate examination, consultation or follow-up.
Leveque denies that he has done anything improper and said he is being targeted because he refuses to go along with a system that is failing some of its most needy citizens. However, he is undeterred in his quest to fulfill what he believes is his sacred duty as a physician: dispensing comfort to the people under his care.
And he is no stranger to controversy.
In 1986 Leveque was placed on licensing probation for 10 years for allegedly overprescribing pain medications to patients. It was during that hiatus that he used his background as a forensic toxiologist to research the therapeutic effects of marijuana. The more he learned the more Leveque said he began to view cannabis as the drug of choice for long-term illnesses.
Since his name hit the Oregon newspapers, Leveque said other doctors have backed away from helping patients receive medical-marijuana cards. He said that move has left many Oregon residents underserved and he is now getting as many as 40 new requests a day from potential patients. In spite of the pressure from the state, he's vowed to continue the campaign he started five years ago when he successfully set out to convince voters that medical-marijuana should be readily available to people with chronic pain.
"I think what really bothers me is that there are 7,000 doctors in Oregon and only 500 of them have signed applications, which leaves 6,500 that aren't serving their patients," said Leveque.
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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"
Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge