Former CDC Director Arrested for Sexual Misconduct

By Pat Anson, Editor

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control of Prevention, has been arrested on sexual misconduct charges in New York City.

Frieden turned himself in to police in Brooklyn Friday morning after being charged with forcible touching, harassment and third degree sex abuse, all misdemeanors. The charges stem from a complaint filed in July by a 55-year old unnamed woman who alleges the 57-year old doctor grabbed her buttocks without permission in his apartment last October. 

According to STAT, Frieden later apologized to the woman -- a longtime family friend -- and "tried to manipulate her into staying silent by citing his position and potential to save lives around the world."

Fried was arraigned Friday afternoon and released without bail, after a judge ordered him not to contact his accuser and to surrender his passport. He's due back in court October 11.

Frieden did not enter a plea. A spokesperson released a statement saying the incident "does not reflect Dr. Frieden’s public or private behavior or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world.”

Frieden led the CDC from 2009 to 2017 and championed the agency’s controversial opioid prescribing guideline -- calling it an "excellent starting point" to prevent opioid abuse.

Although voluntary and only intended for primary care physicians, the guideline has been widely adopted by insurers, states and healthcare providers – resulting in many chronic pain patients losing access to opioid medication.

“This crisis was caused, in large part, by decades of prescribing too many opioids for too many conditions where they provide minimal benefit," Frieden wrote in a commentary published by Fox News.  “There are safer drugs and treatment approaches that can control pain as well or better than opioids for the vast majority of patients."

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN

Frieden currently heads Resolve to Save Lives, a program of Vital Strategies, a non-profit health organization that is trying to improve public health worldwide.

Vital Strategies released a statement saying Frieden informed the organization in April about the misconduct allegation. His accuser does not work for Vital Strategies, but the organization hired an investigator to interview employees about Frieden. No inappropriate workplace behavior or harassment was found, according to Vital Strategies CEO Jose Castro.  

“I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen first-hand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally. Vital Strategies greatly values the work Dr. Frieden does to advance public health and he has my full confidence,” said Castro.

Frieden has an extensive background in epidemiology and infectious diseases, and his tenure at the CDC was marked by major efforts to combat the Ebola virus, fungal meningitis, influenza and the Zika virus.

Before his appointment as CDC director, Frieden was New York City’s health commissioner, where he led efforts to ban public smoking and remove unhealthy trans fats from restaurants. Frieden is married and has two children.

Frieden to Resign as CDC Director

By Pat Anson, Editor

Dr. Thomas Frieden, who has headed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for nearly eight years and played a pivotal role in the agency’s opioid prescribing guidelines, plans to submit his resignation on January 20, the day of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.   

Frieden disclosed his plans in a year-end interview with Reuters. The former New York City health commissioner did not say what he planned to do next.

Frieden’s resignation is not surprising, as incoming administrations usually do not retain the heads of federal agencies, most of whom are political appointees.  Food and Drug Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, who has only been in office for 10 months, has not been contacted by the Trump transition team and is also expected to be replaced, according to The Washington Post.

President-elect Trump has not yet said who his nominee will be to succeed Califf or who he will appoint to replace Frieden.

Frieden has an extensive background in epidemiology and infectious diseases, and his tenure at the CDC was marked by major efforts to combat outbreaks of the Ebola virus, fungal meningitis, influenza and the Zika virus. He also doggedly pursued a controversial campaign to put prescribing limits on opioid pain medication, an area traditionally overseen by the FDA.

“One of the most heartbreaking problems I’ve faced as CDC director is our nation’s opioid crisis,” Frieden recently wrote in a commentary published by Fox News. 

“This crisis was caused, in large part, by decades of prescribing too many opioids for too many conditions where they provide minimal benefit and is now made worse by wide availability of cheap, potent, and easily available illegal opioids: heroin, illicitly made fentanyl, and other, newer illicit synthetic opioids. These deadly drugs have found a ready market in people primed for addiction by misuse of prescription opioids.”

thomas frieden, md

thomas frieden, md

But Frieden’s campaign to rein in opioid prescribing has failed to slow the soaring number of overdose deaths, which continued to rise throughout his tenure at CDC, killing 52,000 Americans last year alone.

His repeated claim that the use of prescription opioids by legitimate patients is “intertwined” with the overdose epidemic is also not supported by facts. Only a small percentage of pain patients become addicted to opioid medication or graduate to heroin and other illegal street drugs.

Yet Frieden remains a staunch supporter of the CDC guidelines, calling them an “excellent starting point” to prevent opioid abuse, even though the guidelines themselves state they are based on scientific evidence that is "low in quality."

“There are safer drugs and treatment approaches that can control pain as well or better than opioids for the vast majority of patients. We must reduce the number of Americans exposed to opioids for the first time, especially for conditions where the risks of opioids outweigh the benefits,” Frieden wrote.

“We must not forget what got us here in the first place. Doctors’ prudent use of the prescription pad and renewed commitment to treat pain more safely and effectively based on what we know now about opioids—as well as healthy awareness of the risks and benefits among patients prescribed these drugs—can change the path of the opioid epidemic.”

Frieden undoubtedly had good intentions, but his agency repeatedly showed a penchant for arrogance and contempt for the public while drafting the guidelines.  The CDC held no public hearings, and secretly consulted with addiction treatment specialists and special interest groups, but few pain patients or pain physicians.

The CDC finally unveiled the guidelines publicly in September 2015 to a select online audience. The agency didn’t make the guidelines available on its website or in any public form outside of the webinar, and allowed for only a 48-hour comment period. Only when faced with the threat of lawsuits and growing ridicule from patients, physicians and other federal agencies, did the agency reverse course and delay the guidelines for several months. They were released virtually unchanged in March 2016.

Although “voluntary” and meant only for primary care physicians, the guidelines have been widely adopted by pain specialists and other prescribers, and have even become law in several states. This was always the goal of the CDC.

Within a few months of their release, an online survey of nearly 2,000 pain patients found that over two-thirds had their opioid medication reduced or stopped by their doctors. Over half said they had contemplated suicide.

There have been anecdotal reports of suicides increasing in the pain community. A recent story we did about the suicide of a Vermont man who was cut off from opioids and abandoned by his doctor provoked quite a response from readers.

“This situation has got to be stopped before any more people commit suicide to escape the pain. I also suffer from chronic pain and my medications have been cut back so far they no longer work worth a damn,” Michael wrote to us.

“I'm facing the very same thing right now. I'm in utter agony,” said LadyV. “In my doctor’s office I was told I have to reduce you, wean you off. I through no fault of my own suffered a horrible spinal injury and now no one cares.”

“When I was forcibly weaned off my pain meds last spring, due to the push by the DEA and CDC, I wrote a letter to the White House,” wrote Judith Metzger. “I mentioned a need for them to be watching suicide statistics related to uncontrolled chronic pain. There was never any mention that I was suicidal. Still, I got several calls from a suicide crisis team in DC! Reading this tragic story makes it clear that my prediction was sadly correct. When will they ever listen?”

In his commentary for Fox News, Frieden said it was “important that we look upstream and prevent opioid use disorder in the first place.”

In his final weeks at the CDC, now may be a good time for Frieden to look downstream at the havoc his prescribing guidelines have created.

CDC Satire Gets Taken Seriously

By Pat Anson, Editor

Everyone likes to be in on a good joke, but an article recently published online as medical satire is being taken seriously by some pain patients and healthcare professionals.

The article, published by Gomer Blog, claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new recommendations urging doctors to ignore patients who have a pain score greater than 4. Pain levels are commonly measured on a scale of 1 to 10.

The Gomer Blog story even has a purported quote from the CDC's director:

“Look, here’s the deal.  When you say your pain is 1, 2, 3, or 4, that’s actually believable to health care providers, so we’ll give you Tylenol, maybe even an NSAID,” explained the Director of the CDC Dr. Thomas Frieden.  “When you start getting into that 5 through 9 territory, it starts getting a little suspicious.  And we all know that pain of 10 or greater than 10 is, well, honestly, just bullsh*t.  So greater than 4?  Ignore.”

That would be funny, except for the fact I can actually see Frieden saying that.

Another quote from the story is from a fictitious doctor:

“In today’s health care climate half of my day is spent arguing with patients about opioids,” said primary care physician Jamela Wilson.  “The other half of my day?  Arguing with patients’ significant others about opioids.”

I could see an actual doctor saying that, too.

Not a word of the Gomer Blog story is true. But in the current Bizarro World of pain care -- where Medicare is afraid to ask patients about their pain treatment, the CDC hires a PR company to improve its image, and the DEA declares kratom an "imminent public health hazard" and then decides maybe its not -- well, some people have trouble sorting fact from fiction. And who can blame them?

“Is this true? I'd love to see you guys write something about this,” asked one PNN reader, who included a link to a nurse’s training center in Florida that republished the Gomer Blog story on its website.  

The FTC Training Center, which says that its mission is “to support the lifelong education of nurses,” never mentions that the Gomer Blog story is meant as satire. The post was made by Florvilus Nessley, a program director at FTC, who offers training and certification for nurses on hepatitis, dementia, the Zika virus, urinary tract infections and therapeutic hypothormia. Interesting curriculum, Florvilus. 

Calls and emails to the FTC Training Center were not immediately returned, as they say.

Gomer Blog describes itself as a “satirical medical news website created by a bunch of wannabe stand up comedians who ended up in healthcare.”

Recent Gomer Blog posts include articles about an infectious disease clinic handing out free chastity belts and hospitals blocking TV coverage of the presidential election to promote healing.

I can see that happening, too.