Though pill mills continue to be a big problem in Florida, where lax laws have fueled Kentucky's prescription pill trade, there is evidence that the tides are slowly turning in the Sunshine State. "Registered pain clinics in Florida have dropped from 930 last year to 736 now as the state begin to crack down," reports Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal in the second installment of a special report on prescription drug abuse. (C-J photo by Kylene Lloyd: Broward County Detective Brann Redl)
A Florida law that took effect in July increases penalties for physicians who over-prescribe, tightens rules for prescriptions and pain-treatment regimens, and decreases the amount of time dispensers have to report the sale of prescription drugs into an electronic monitoring system that started Sept. 1.
The worry now is pill mill operators may just move to surrounding states. Georgia has seen a surge in clinics. "Each community outside of Atlanta is seeing an increased problem," said John Horn, first assistant U.S. attorney in Georgia, which has no electronic prescription-drug monitoring program. Some Kentucky addicts are heading to Ohio, Tennessee or West Virginia to get their pills, though now an interstate task force is helping to curb those efforts. (Read more)
There is also fear that the new law in Florida contains loopholes. "For example, board-certified pain specialists, such as anesthesiologists and surgeons, are exempt from pain-clinic registration and inspections," Ungar reports. The law also "doesn't require drug testing for patients."
But there are efforts on the national level by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to stem the problem. Operation Pill Nation, launched in 2010, resulted in the DEA and other agencies making 340 undercover buys from more than 60 doctors working in more than 40 clinics in the first nine months of the operation. "The first arrests came in late February, when 22 people were picked up in one day," Ungar reports. A Florida strike force that started in March resulted in 937 arrests, including 17 doctors, and the confiscation of more than 250,000 pills.
There is also evidence that state drug monitoring systems work because they are a "major deterrent to doctor-shopping and a main reason Kentuckians go to Florida for drugs," Ungar reports.(Read more)