By Pat Anson, Editor
Ryle Holder wants the DEA to know that he’s not a drug dealer or a money launderer.
And he’s doesn’t think his physician, Dr. Forrest Tennant, is one either.
“They’ve gone and attacked a good man. He’s such an empathetic person for so many people. You just can’t find doctors that care like he does,” says Holder.
As PNN has reported, Tennant’s home and pain clinic in West Covina, California were raided last week by DEA agents, after a judge signed off on a search warrant that alleges Tennant is part of a drug trafficking organization and running a pill mill.
The raid stunned the pain community nationwide, because the 76-year old Tennant is widely known and respected for his willingness to see intractable pain patients who can’t find effective treatment elsewhere.
“It’s not like he’s just giving out high doses of medication and running a pill mill, like they said. That to me was the most asinine statement in that whole search warrant,” says Holder.
Like many of Tennant’s patients, Holder suffers from adhesive arachnoiditis and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), two chronic and painful conditions that are considered incurable. For the last three years, the 48-year old Georgia man has been flying to California every few months to see Tennant.
Although Holder is not identified by name in the search warrant, it strongly implies that he and a handful of other patients were selling the opioid pain medication that Tennant prescribed and diverting the profits back to Tennant.
“For them to even remotely think I’m out on the streets selling this stuff is a joke. It makes me angry,” says Holder, who is a licensed pharmacist. “I’ve got a license to protect. That’s the last thing I’d do.
“It’s like everything else they do. They don’t talk to any patients. They don’t talk to any doctors. They just go and throw all this stuff out there and making all these incriminations against people. They don’t have any evidence that I’ve sold anything. It’s just ludicrous.”
Also named in the search warrant is United Pharmacy of Los Angeles and pharmacist Farid Pourmorady of Beverly Hills, the owner of United. Click here to see a copy of the search warrant.
“Investigators believe that United, Tennant, and various medical practitioners are profiting from the illicit diversion of controlled substances, including the powerful narcotic fentanyl, which are prescribed and dispensed other than for a legitimate medical purpose,” DEA investigator Stephanie Kolb states in lengthy affidavit.
Although Tennant has been under investigation for nearly three years, much of the evidence against him appears circumstantial. Kolb and medical consultants hired by the DEA identified “very suspicious prescribing patterns” that include high doses of opioids that were regularly prescribed to patients who live out-of-state.
“My review of the data shows what I recognize to be red flags reflecting the illicit diversion of controlled substances,” said Kolb, who according to her LinkedIn profile was self employed as a dog walker and pet groomer before she started working for the DEA in 2012.
“Many patients are traveling long distances to see Dr. Tennant, some as far away as Maryland and Louisiana,” Dr. Timothy Munzing says in the affidavit. "These prescribing patterns are highly suspicious for medication abuse and/or diversion. If the patients are actually using all the medications prescribed, they are at very high risk of addiction, overdose, and death.”
Dr. Munzing is a family practice physician who has worked as a medical consultant for the DEA since 2014. Munzing doesn't hide his strong feelings about opioids and says in his Medscape profile that he wants to be "involved with law enforcement in trying to attack the opioid crisis."
Munzing has established a lucrative business for himself as a consultant for the federal government. According to GovTribe, a website that tracks payments to federal contractors, Munzing is paid $300 an hour by the DEA to testify as an expert witness and reviewing patient records. Munzing was paid about $45,000 by the DEA during the period Tennant's prescribing records were under review.
"Many well-meaning physicians prescribed high-dose opioids because of a lack of, or erroneous, education and experience, being naïve or exceedingly busy, or not recognizing the dangers that existed," Munzing wrote in a recently published paper. "This resulted in drug overdoses and death. A very small proportion of patients began selling their prescribed opioid medications for profit."
No Patients Harmed
Unmentioned anywhere in the affidavit is that it is common for Dr. Tennant to prescribe high doses of medication to his patients because most are in extreme pain and some are dying. Many travel from out-of-state simply because Tennant is the only doctor willing to see them. Also unmentioned is any evidence that a patient overdosed or was harmed while under Tennant’s care. Nor is any evidence presented that a patient sold their medication.
The omission of those important details from Kolb’s affidavit – whether by design or ignorance -- may have influenced Judge Alicia Rosenberg’s decision to sign the search warrant on the afternoon of November 13. Coincidentally, that was the same day Tennant was testifying 1,200 miles away in Montana as a defense witness in the trial of Dr. Chris Christensen, another doctor accused by the DEA of prescribing too many opioids.
Tennant and his wife Miriam returned home the next evening to find the front door of their house had been kicked in by DEA agents.
“We can’t tell you how very sorry we are that you are a new DEA target! We feel somewhat responsible for this travesty, since they obviously knew you were in Montana on our behalf,” Dr. Christensen and his wife wrote in an open letter to Tennant posted on Facebook.
“It’s our very firm belief that the DEA’s course is to attack all those practitioners, who stand in opposition to their intrusion into the practice of medicine. It is my contention that the DEA will spare no effort to conceal its catastrophic failure to interdict the flow of counterfeit pharmaceuticals into the United States over the past decade. Therein lies the true cause of increasingly severe opioid addiction and opioid related deaths.”
The DEA raids on Tennant's home and pain clinic were widely publicized in Montana after his testimony, just as a jury was about to begin deliberations in the Christensen case. Yesterday the jury found Christensen guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of two patients.
A major part of the DEA’s case against Tennant hinges on nearly $127,000 in speaking fees that he was paid by Insys Therapeutics, a controversial Arizona drug maker that makes a potent fentanyl spray called Subsys.
Several company officials have been indicted on federal charges that they bribed doctors with kickbacks and lucrative speaking fees to get them to promote Subsys, which has been implicated in hundreds of overdose deaths.
Tennant says he stopped taking payments from Insys in 2015 and was dropped from the company’s speaker’s bureau last year.
“What money we did make, we put in the clinic and used it to support the patients,” he told PNN.
Subsys is only approved by the FDA for the treatment of cancer pain, but Insys aggressively marketed the spray to have it prescribed “off label” to treat other pain conditions. It’s perfectly legal for physicians to prescribe a drug off-label – in fact it’s a common practice – but Tennant drew additional scrutiny because he prescribed Subsys to several of his non-cancer pain patients.
Subsys is an extremely expensive drug – a single prescription for one of Tennant’s patients cost over $21,000. According to the DEA, nearly $2 million in prescriptions for Subsys were written by Tennant for just five patients. One of them was Ryle Holder.
“It did help a little bit, but it wasn’t doing anything more than what I was already taking,” says Holder, who stopped using Subsys after six months. He was shocked to discover how much his insurance was billed for Subsys.
“I was absolutely blown away. I’ve never in my life as a pharmacist seen anything price-wise even remotely like that. I don’t know if that’s the true price or not, or if they were inflating the price. Who knows? I was shocked when I got it and saw that’s what they had billed,” Holder said.
“I certainly had no comprehension of how expensive this thing had become,” said Tennant, who bristles at the notion that Subsys should be limited to patients with cancer pain.
“It was an excellent product. It still is, for some people it’s just essential,” says Tennant. “Every doctor in the country should be disturbed about this. Are they saying off label use is now a crime?”
Patients Support Tennant
Tennant has not been charged with a crime and can still practice medicine. But he’s been informed by the DEA that medical records seized from his pain clinic will not be returned directly to him. Patients must request a copy of their records from the DEA if they wish to continue seeing Tennant.
Many are vowing to do just that.
“Before seeing Dr. Tennant I was in and out of the emergency room constantly. I had no idea what was wrong with me at the time and it was not only extremely painful, but I really just wanted to die,” says Dawn Erwin, who Tennant diagnosed with arachnoiditis.
“He took time to explain it. He told me he could help get it under control. And he has! Not by opiates, but by anti-inflammatory meds, magnets, copper, vitamins, hormones. This has all been life changing for me. I no longer am in the emergency room. I no longer wish to die. I have some of my life back and I have Dr. Tennant to thank. This man has literally saved my life.”
“I remember the first time I told my doctor I felt like I had bugs crawling under my skin. He looked at me like I was crazy, but not Dr. Tennant. He said yes that is all part of the adhesive arachnoiditis and we can see what we can do to help with that,” says Candy Eller. “The creams he recommended, the blood work and hormones he prescribed, the magnet therapy and light therapy, and exercises that he prescribed have helped so much with getting my pain under control.”
“Dr. Tennant is the only doctor that I have found that is willing to treat my rare, complex, incurable medical issues,” says Erin Taylor, who lives with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and an autoimmune disease. “I saw over 20 doctors, tried over 15 different invasive treatments, and tried well over 40 different medications in an effort to improve my quality of life. I was most often met with doctors that had no interest in working with such a complicated case.
“To restrict Dr. Tennant’s ability to practice would have a devastating impact on my life, my family’s life, and lives of many more. Please know that if you chose to eliminate the one doctor that is working to help my debilitating illness, you will be taking away my ability to be mother, wife, daughter, friend, and functioning member of society. I will be bed bound, just a shell of who I use to be.”
For the record, Dr. Tennant and the Tennant Foundation have given financial support to Pain News Network and are currently sponsoring PNN’s Patient Resources section.