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Florida’s New Safeguard for their Staggering Prescription Pill Problem

Around 7 million Americans abuse prescription medication regularly, which makes them the most abused substances in the US, excluding marijuana and alcohol.[1] Florida has been the pill pushing capital of the US for over ten years, housing pain clinics that readily feed the American need for inebriation through medication.[2] On Monday, a new computer system aimed at curbing the pill epidemic in Florida was implemented.[3] This electronic databank tracks controlled substance prescriptions and helps medical professionals identify doctor shoppers.[4] A similar system is already active in forty two other states and many have blamed Florida’s absence of this safeguard as one of the leading factors fueling its prescription pill problem.[5]

Pharmacies will now be required to report each prescription filled for a controlled substance such as the notorious anti-anxiety agent Xanax or the widely abused opioid Oxycontin.[6] This will expose those who are visiting numerous doctors with the intent of abusing or reselling these highly addictive drugs.[7] Pharmacists and doctors are advised to deny further medication to patients that are discovered to be seeing multiple doctors.[8]

However, this program is not a foolproof plan for thwarting the prescription problem in Florida. Pharmacists or MDs are not required to take action upon discovery of a doctor shopper, it is simply a recommendation.[9] Pharmacies are given seven days to report filled prescriptions, which allots adequate time for an addict or dealer to see several doctors and return to his or her home state.[10] The program is also completely voluntary and some MD’s and pharmacies are expected to ignore the opportunity.[11] However, if a patient dies under the care of a doctor whom is not employing the electronic system into his or her practice, legal action could be taken on behalf of the patient.[12]

This action taken to prevent painkiller abuse in Florida is long overdue. For the past ten years, Florida has been a hotspot for drug tourism on account of its flawed prescription system. Broward County in Southern Florida has more pain clinics than McDonald’s restaurants, roughly 115 pill pushers versus 70 of the famous fast food franchises.[13] Every single one of the United States top 25 oxycodone-prescribing doctors reside in Florida, 18 of which are in Broward County.[14]

The statistics concerning Florida’s pain pill appetite are downright staggering. Doctors working within Broward County prescribed over 16 million painkillers in 2009 and the total population of the county is only 1.8 million.[15] During the first six months of 2010, Florida practitioners purchased 41.2 million pills of the most infamous painkiller, oxycodone, in sharp contrast to the 4.8 million purchased in all other 49 states combined.[16] For example, California doctors only bought 302,873 pills.[17] Florida residents aren’t experiencing 136 times more physical discomfort than those living in California; the state has simply become a golden opportunity for drug dealers to buy thousands of pills at pharmacy price.

Prior to the drug logging system that began Monday, there was virtually no mechanism for a pain clinic or doctor to discern between patients that are already being treated with medication and patients that are legitimately seeking treatment.[18] This led to a surge of people taking long road trips to Florida to stock up on a huge number of pills and return to their more restrictive state, diverting the pills to the street for a hefty profit.[19] This is evident in Kentucky, where sixty percent of the prescription medication found on the street originates from a Florida pain center.[20]

The deaths from overdosing on these dangerous substances has risen dramatically and there is now roughly ten prescription drug related deaths in Florida daily.[21] The number of overdose deaths from illicit substances such as cocaine and heroin dwarf in comparison.[22]

What makes cracking down on these facilities particularly difficult is that there are legitimate patients who suffer from chronic pain that may benefit from opioid medication. Deciphering who and who doesn’t have a valid reason to obtain these pills can be extremely difficult. The electronic medication tracking program is a step in the right direction for assessing this particularly puzzling predicament.

A law passed in 2010 required state inspection of clinics, prohibited the sale of more than three days of drugs to those paying with cash or credit and mandated a physical examination the day the doctor writes a script.[23] It also outlawed felons from running clinics and declared that this was a privilege reserved to doctors with clean records.[24]

Many clinic owners found loopholes in this law and simply sold their establishments to licensed doctors and stayed on as managers.[25] Others who weren’t doctors opened pain clinics and simply listed their businesses as health care clinics.[26] Despite the fact patients could no longer obtain large numbers of pills at clinics, many times the clinic would direct their patients to a specific pharmacy in the area.[27]

In July of this year, a state law was passed in Florida that acknowledged some of these loopholes. Health clinics that advertise any form of pain management services must register as pain clinics and drug wholesalers are required to notify the state of abnormally large numbers of pills being distributed.[28]

However, this more recent legislation does contain its own set of loopholes. Board-certified pain experts such as surgeons or anesthesiologists are excused from pain-clinic registration and inspection.[29] In addition, the law does not necessitate drug testing for pain-clinic patients.[30]

The revolt on the pill mills in Florida is not simply being fought through litigation. There has been an uprising of Florida citizens standing up against the pill suppliers and the devastation caused by their presence. One group in particular, known as Stop The Organized Pill Pushers Now or STOPP Now, organizes protests outside the most infamous Florida pain clinics and gives support to the families traumatized by prescription pill abuse.[31]

As Florida residents begin to put their foot down concerning pain clinics, a sudden rise of these facilities has become apparent in Georgia.[32] Georgia has a law for prescription drug monitoring, however, it was never put into action.[33] Georgia also has no state law restricting pill mills. Some of Georgia’s pill mills advertise on billboards and at bus shelters.[34]

A notable pain center case in Florida consisted of a convicted heroin and cocaine trafficker that recently spent four years for his drug related crimes and was operating seven questionable pain clinics that were raided in February.[35] This effort was dubbed Operation Snake Oil and Colangelo and his five associates were indicted for conspiracy to distribute 660,000 oxycodone pills since Fall of 2008.[36] There were also money-laundering charges brought against Colangelo and two of his colleagues.[37] Colengelo pled not guilty and is in jail until his trial which will begin January 30, 2012.[38]

The prosecution accuses Colangelo, whom has no medical background, of owning and operating seven pain clinics and a pharmacy.[39] He allegedly employed the internet to advertise his drug business, using over 1,600 domain names aimed at luring drug seekers to his clinics.[40] He is also accused of promising large quantities of pills to potential patients that called in to his clinics.[41]

New patients that entered one of his clinics were charged anywhere between $250 to $350 for Florida residents and more for those traveling from out of state.[42] His businesses solely accepted cash payments and follow up appointments were about one hundred less than the initial consultation.[43] Clients usually waited hours to see a doctor but were given the option to purchase a VIP pass for $100 to $500 that would bring them to the front of the queue.[44] The requirement for a patient to see a doctor was for them to produce an MRI scan and those that couldn’t were directed towards a nearby center that is known for liberally interpreting scans to allow for pain medication.[45]

Patients were required to pay for meds before even seeing a doctor and many times never received a sufficient examination.[46] Patients often told the doctors which meds they wanted and received them on site or were directed to a specific pharmacy in the area.[47] The indictment against this former dynasty of pill mills includes the forfeiture of $22.4 million, high-priced real estate and over 46 vehicles and boats.[48]

This operation was simply one pill pushing empire that was put to rest, while many others continue to thrive right under the noses of the police and the medical community. Florida is now a cesspool for prescription pill addiction and a resource for drug dealers to obtain narcotic medication effortlessly. The electric databank put into effect on Monday will be instrumental in discouraging and arresting some of this activity, however, further action must be taken. The astonishing amount of painkillers prescribed in Florida has little to do with pain and more to do with America’s fascination with mind altering chemicals. The longer these pain clinics doors are open to anyone with money and a physical complaint, the more drug deaths we will see in our country and the more actual pain the ripple effect of these deaths will cause.


















































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