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Working With Law Enforcement and DEA

How one patient/doctor relationship spawned a interdisciplinary collaboration of clinicians and law enforcement members.

Joe Shurman, MD, met Adrienne Groza and her husband, Alex Groza, when Adrienne sought help for her chronic pain. In 1989, she was hired as a police officer by the City of San Diego, working in various assignments such as a patrol officer, accident investigations, and the VICE unit. Her career came to an end after a drunk driver broadsided her police car. She subsequently had multiple cervical spine surgeries and was forced into medical retirement. Due to this trauma, Mrs. Groza has been a chronic pain patient since 1994.

Mr. Groza had been a Detective Sergeant with the San Diego Police Department and was assigned to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) San Diego Field Division from August 2001 to June 2011. He was a group supervisor for the DEA San Diego County Integrated Narcotics Task Force and was also a federal agent empowered to enforce federal drug laws. He supervised multiple agency narcotic enforcement teams targeting mid- to high-level traffickers. His team consisted of DEA agents, police officers, and deputy sheriff personnel.

In addition to evaluating and treating Mrs. Groza, because of the Groza’s backgrounds and experience, Dr. Shurman discussed with them issues including opioid addiction, related symptomatology, and diversion of prescription medications. These casual conversations led to more formal discussions and meeting with the Southern California pain management community (see DEA and Doctors Working Together). Eventually, Dr. Shurman was introduced to the Grozas’ colleague Tom Lenox, a supervisory special agent with the DEA in San Diego, who has been with the agency for 28 years, and in the last 7 years, has been assigned to the DEA’s Pharmaceutical Task Force.

The task force investigative targets range from people selling pills on the street to employees who are stealing from a pharmacy or a doctor’s office to patients who are doctor shopping. Mr. Lenox also will investigate physicians who are suspected of abusing their registration number. “One of the goals of his group is to work with physicians to resolve problems and issues in advance. If the DEA visits their office, it is not something that is seen in a negative light,” noted Mr. Lenox in an interview for San Diego Physician.1

Outside his DEA role, Mr. Lenox participates in the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force and the Prescription Drug Abuse Medical Task Force, through which he teams with healthcare professionals, informing them about issues the law enforcement community has been seeing with respect to prescription medications.

As a police officer, Mrs. Groza had certain views about drugs and medications. She had never taken anything stronger than an aspirin and was naïve about pain management. Her experience was to arrest people for their illegal usage or sales. At one time, she considered all drugs to be bad.

Subsequently, after her failed spine surgery, she became a chronic pain patient with intractable pain. This gave her a good perspective for the legitimate medical need for pain management therapies. When she became the manager of a pain management office, she became educated to the dilemmas faced by patients in pain. She noted that while working for the pain physician and searching many websites about chronic pain, she found this topic coming up consistently: the “dreaded DEA,” the enemy of all physicians and pain management patients alike.

The patients that she spoke with and read about across the United States seemed to fear the DEA due to the fact that the DEA seemed to be the culprit in putting good pain doctors out of business. Many patients and physicians thought that since the DEA agents had no medical training, they had no business telling physicians what to do and how to prescribe treatment for pain patients. When Mr. Groza was working for the San Diego Police Department Narcotics Unit, he was promoted to a position working with the DEA’s Narcotic Task Force. When he announced what he considered wonderful news to his wife, he was puzzled as to why she was not pleased about his promotion. Since Dr. Shurman has been managing her pain, Mrs. Groza’s quality of life, ability to function, and ability to exercise has improved dramatically. In fact, at times she overdoes it. For example, recently she was kickboxing with a drill instructor (against Dr. Shurman’s advice) and lifting light weights and swimming, with his support. Mrs. Groza has noted that access to appropriate pain care has been transformative in her quality of life.


Last updated on: September 23, 2014
First published on: June 1, 2014