DEA-Led Operation Pill Nation Targets Rogue Pain Clinics in South Florida
22 Arrested and over $2.2 million in cash seized as culmination of year-long investigation begins
MIAMI - DEA Agents, with assistance from its federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, arrested 22 people and seized over $2.2 million in cash and 70 vehicles, including numerous exotic cars, on Wednesday, February 23 in a sweeping takedown of rogue pain clinics in South Florida. These arrests are the first in Operation Pill Nation resulting from 340 undercover buys of prescription drugs from over 60 doctors in more than 40 “pill mills” conducted in the past year.
Among those arrested were doctors who were conspiring to distribute and dispense more than 660,000 dosage units of the Schedule II narcotic oxycodone. In addition, several defendants were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy and money laundering offenses.
“Prescription drug abuse is our country’s fastest growing drug problem, and pill mills such as those in Florida are fueling much of that growth. As a result, citizens in communities across Florida and around the nation are faced with growing drug addiction that is accompanied by pain, suffering, and even death,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Rogue doctors who run these operations violate their professional oaths and are, in fact, drug dealers. Florida today is “ground zero” in the fight against pill mills, and we are determined to continue to aggressively pursue those who are responsible for this nationwide epidemic.”
According to the indictment, the defendants operated the clinics as pill mills that offered patients prescriptions for oxycodone and other controlled substances where there was no legitimate medical purpose and not within the usual course of professional medical practice. The indictment alleges that the defendants marketed the clinics through more than 1,600 internet sites, required immediate cash payments from patients for a clinic “visit fee,” directed the patients to obtain MRIs that the defendants knew to be inferior, over-aggressively interpreted MRIs in order to justify prescriptions, and falsified patients’ urine tests for a fee to justify the highly addictive pain medications.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo A .Ferrer stated, “According to recent estimates, Florida prescribes ten times more oxycodone pills than all other states combined. Operation Snake Oil [an OCDETF investigation conducted as part of Operation Pill Nation] is part of our concerted effort to keep South Florida from drowning in pill mills. Working together with our state and local partners, we are shutting down these shady storefronts through the systematic prosecution of doctors, clinic owners and operators who deal drugs while hiding behind a medical license.”
According to the indictment, demand for oxycodone has grown to epidemic proportions in South Florida and other parts of the United States, where drug dealers can sell a 30 mg oxycodone pill on the street for $10 to $30 or more. Oxycodone has a high potential for abuse and can be crushed and snorted or dissolved and injected to get an immediate high. This abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and sometimes death.
Additional agencies participating in Operation Pill Nation were the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Miami Dade Police Department, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Hollywood Police Department, Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud, Florida Department of Health, and Florida Highway Patrol. The Operation Pill Nation investigations are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office, Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office, Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office and Broward County State Attorney’s Office.
February 24, 2011