In 1985, Richard Paey was paralyzed after a car accident. To make matters worse, a botched surgery left him in even more pain. The Ivy League-educated lawyer and father of three had his entire life turned upside down suddenly, and as a result, he was forced to deal with excruciating, endless pain that required him to take a cocktail of various painkillers.
"I felt like my legs were being dipped into a furnace," said Paey to CBS News in 2007. "They were burning, and I couldn't move them. It's an intense pain that, over time, will literally drive you to suicide. And for me, death would have been a form of relief.”
For years after his accident and a subsequent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, Paey was forced to manage his pain with a slew of different painkillers. The longer he was on them, the worse his pain became, so doctors were forced to give him higher doses. When Paey moved to Florida from New Jersey with his family, his doctors continued to mail prescriptions to him, but warned him that prescribing such large amounts could attract police attention.
“One was quite frank and said that I was, in a word, he said, 'screwed,'" said Paey. "And I was in that medical nightmare zone where you've gone through all the treatments, and nothing works. And what does work, what does help, no one wants to prescribe because it attracts attention, and no one wants that attention."
Eventually, Paey’s refills attracted the attention of local law enforcement in Florida, who suspected him of reselling the drugs, so after two months of surveillance, a SWAT team raided his home and arrested the paralyzed man.
"They had guns and ski masks and, like, five, six people ran into the house and half of them took the kids and my mother-in-law. And the other one grabbed me," said Richard’s wife Linda. “And Rich kept on saying, 'Please, call my doctor. Can you call my doctor?' You know? 'Everything's fine. Call my doctor.' And they said they already have."
Unfortunately for Paey, Dr. Stephen Nurkiewicz, the doctor who had been prescribing the large amount of pills from New Jersey, allegedly lied to police and told them that all of the prescriptions were forgeries.
Prosecutors claimed that Paey sold the drugs that he illegally obtained, but Paey, to this day, denies any wrongdoing.
"They put my wife and I, my family, under surveillance for three months," said Paey. "During that three month period, they followed us to church. They followed my wife to work. They interviewed my neighbors. This went on for three months. They found nothing."
Eventually, a jury convicted Paey of 15 counts of prescription forgery, drug trafficking and unlawful posession of a controlled substance. He began serving a 25-year prison sentence, and according to reports, he was given a constant morphine drip that provided him more pain relief than he was getting while using prescription painkillers. In 2007, Paey was released from prison after Attorney General Charlie Crist signed a full pardon, and since then, the war on drugs has been one of the top debated issues in America. Thanks to cases like Paey’s and others, drug-sentencing reform is finally being discussed seriously.