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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    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



  1. Motorhead
    [IMGL="black"]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=19486&stc=1&d=1299077502[/IMGL]Florida is the epicenter of a prescription drug abuse epidemic. Each day in communities from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale, thousands of doses of powerful narcotics like oxycodone are dispensed in pain clinics — storefront operations also called "pill mills."

    When he started at the Broward County Sheriff's department 30 years ago, Al Lamberti says, the department was raiding crack houses and busting junkies.

    "Nowadays, the drug dealers are working out of strip malls," he says.

    Lamberti heads the sheriff's office in a county that includes Fort Lauderdale. It's a city that has become a destination not just for spring breakers but also for addicts and drug traffickers.

    "We have more pain clinics than [we have] McDonald's [restaurants]," he says. "They're taking their toll."

    Lamberti recently joined a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement officials at a news conference held to announce a major crackdown on Florida's pill mills. It was a series of busts, from Palm Beach to Miami, that included more than 20 arrests and the seizure of more than $22 million in cash, exotic cars and real estate.

    Florida's Oxycodone Prescriptions

    Doctors in Florida prescribe 10 times more oxycodone pills than every other state in the country combined. People come from all over the Southeast to visit the state's pain clinics.

    Typically, doctors give them a quick exam and then a prescription for a powerful painkiller. Sometimes, they even fill the prescription on the premises.

    Mark Trouville, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, says over the past year the joint law enforcement operation has made more than 300 undercover drug buys from pain clinics — and more arrests are coming.

    At the news conference, Trouville had a warning for pill mill operators: "If you're a clinic owner or a doctor or an employee knowingly working at one of these pill mills, we have probably bought dope from you. And we are probably coming to see you soon."

    No System For Monitoring Prescriptions

    A major reason pill mills have proliferated in Florida is because, unlike most other states, it lacks a system for monitoring drug prescriptions. Law enforcement officials say that would help prevent "doctor shopping" — people who travel from one clinic to another, buying hundreds of doses of prescription drugs.

    In fact, Florida does have a prescription drug database. After years of lobbying by law enforcement, the state Legislature passed a bill last session to create one. It just didn't provide money to pay for it. A private foundation stepped in and began raising funds for the database.

    But recently, Gov. Rick Scott has come out foursquare against it. Scott hasn't said much about why he wants to kill it. When pressed at a recent news conference, he said: "I believe it's an invasion of privacy and ... it appears that the money's been wasted."

    An official with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation says the governor's accusation is false and that the group has already raised enough money to start up the state database.

    A Trip Down The 'Oxy Express'

    In the past few weeks, a growing number of voices in Florida and outside the state have called on Scott to drop his opposition to the drug monitoring program. Many of Scott's critics come from states with their own oxycodone epidemics fueled by addicts and drug traffickers who make regular visits to Florida.

    It's a trip down Interstate 75 some now call the "oxy express."

    "I have friends that are ER doctors along I-75," says Kentucky's Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who is also a surgeon. "It's a daily basis where somebody goes into an ER off I-75 with an overdose."

    In Florida, law enforcement authorities say the crackdown on pill mills will continue but that they can't arrest their way out of the problem. They're calling for stricter regulation of doctors and funding for the statewide drug database. Now, all they have to do is convince the governor.

    Greg Allen
    March 02, 2011
  2. Meow Tse Dung
    Honestly... that's good. Well maybe not in this case, but in general, if a town had more heath helping establishments, then McDonald's (which is some how health harming)...
    I'm just sayin'
  3. Motorhead
    Lake County moves to stop 'pill mills'

    TAVARES — Two mothers who lost sons to overdoses of prescription painkillers applauded county commissioners for imposing new restrictions on pain-management clinics that dispense the medicine.

    "I hope this saves lives," said Ellen Tidwell of Clermont, whose 17-year-old son, Justin, died from a prescription-drug overdose in July 2009, a month before beginning his senior year at South Lake High School.

    Tidwell, who also has called attention to the problem on her Facebook page, stood alongside Kim and Michael Cronin of Howey-in-the-Hills, whose son, Paul Cronin, 32, overdosed on hydrocodone in October 2009.

    Though unclear about how their sons obtained the pills that killed them, both families say the new rules allow for a "time out" here to allow further study on the issue by state and local officials concerned about the abuse.

    Florida's lax oversight of pain clinics has been blamed for feeding so-called "pillbillies," addicts from Kentucky and other Appalachian states who trek south to obtain stockpiles of painkillers to abuse or resell.

    Aiming to deter a growing illegal prescription-drug trade in Lake, commissioners imposed a temporary moratorium on permits for new pain clinics and added restrictions to existing clinics.

    The new rules also will affect clinics operating in Lake cities.

    The restrictions, similar to those adopted by the cities of Orlando and Mount Dora and Orange and Seminole counties, limit the clinics' hours of operation to six days a week and ban cash-only transactions.

    Authorities say unscrupulous pain clinics often operate as cash-only "pill mills," where doctors dole out addictive prescription-only sedatives and painkillers to customers with only a cursory exam.

    Critics complain that some customers are addicts rather than patients.

    More than 800 pain clinics operate in Florida, including 13 in Lake. Prescription-drug overdoses have killed more than 5,000 people in Florida over the past two years.

    Federal agents have cracked down on Florida pill mills in recent weeks, shuttering some in South Florida, arresting nearly two dozen people, including four doctors, and seizing dozens of exotic cars, including Lamborghinis.

    According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, drug dispensers in Florida ordered about 44.1 million pain pills in the first half of 2010, more than were ordered by dispensers in the nation's other 49 states combined.

    "We're not talking about legitimate doctor's offices," Commissioner Leslie Campione said.

    Both families also called on Gov. Rick Scott to reconsider his opposition to a statewide prescription-pill monitoring database, which could help with investigating fraud and discourage "doctor shopping." It also would help authorities track patients who are getting excessive numbers of pills from multiple doctors.

    "I don't know what the governor's thinking or what his problem is," Michael Cronin said.

    Scott has raised concerns about the database's cost, effectiveness and possible privacy intrusions.

    Stephen Hudak
    Orlando Sentinel
    March 04, 2011
  4. Motorhead
    Buchanan: Bill would toughen penalties for 'pill mills'

    SARASOTA — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced today that he was proposing legislation designed to halt the rampant growth in Florida of bogus pain clinics, or “pill mills.”

    Saying “drug dealers posing as doctors” are able to operate lucrative clinics that dispense addictive prescription drugs, Buchanan outlined a plan that would toughen penalties and fines.

    The legislation also calls for using assets seized from pill mill operators to fund prescription drug databases in states like Florida.

    Another feature of the proposed legislation is the reclassification of narcotic drugs that are most abused in order to render them more more difficult to obtain, Buchanan said.

    Appearing with Buchanan was Ruth Lyerly, a Bradenton mom whose son, Todd, 18, committed suicide in 2005 after becoming so discouraged about overcoming his addiction that he told her: “‘I just can’t be helped,’” Lyerly said after a news conference.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to kill a proposed prescription tracking system designed to crack down on “pill mills” that supply pain killers and other illicit medications to drug dealers and addicts.

    Florida is the largest of about a dozen states that does not have a prescription monitoring system in place.

    This has resulted in caravans of addicts from other states travellng to Florida to get prescription drugs. Of the nation’s top 100 doctors who dispense oxycodone, 92 are in Florida, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    Buchanan's bill would double the penalties and triple the fines for drug violators and use assets seized to fund prescription drug databases in states like Florida. It also would reclassify one of the most abused and deadly narcotics to make it more difficult to obtain, according to a news release.

    “Many of these so-called pain clinics are nothing more than illegal drug distribution networks that bring untold misery to our children, our families and our communities," Buchanan said in the release. “Today we take a crucial step toward putting them out of business.”

    In the release, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight called the bill “responsive to the needs of law enforcement,” adding, “enhanced legal remedies such as those included in this legislation are critical if we are going to discourage unscrupulous and rampant pill mill operations.”

    Specifically, Buchanan’s bill would:

    • Toughen federal penalties for pill mill operators by doubling the prison sentence from 10 to 20 years and tripling the fine from $1 million to $3 million.

    • Stipulate assets seized from violators to be sold and the proceeds used: to fund drug monitoring databases in the states; to fund DEA enforcement actions against pill mills; and, to support drug treatment programs within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The DEA last month seized an estimated $2.5 million in illicit assets owned by pill mill owners in South Florida.

    • Reclassify hydrocodone combination drugs (one of the most addictive and dangerous drug mixtures) to make them a Schedule II drug that is more difficult to prescribe and obtain.

    A powerful member of the U.S. House endorsed Buchanan's proposal.

    “Congressman Buchanan’s bill gets it absolutely right,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, of which Buchanan is a member.

    “Prescription drug abuse is trampling our communities, destroying families, and worst of all harming our children, particularly throughout Appalachia. More and more of my colleagues are joining the fight to put these unregulated pill mills out of business and the pushers behind bars," co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse.

    "I applaud Congressman Buchanan’s efforts in leading his state and I believe this bill is another important and thoughtful step in our fight to end the scourge of prescription drug abuse," Rogers said.

    Sara Kennedy
    March 04, 2011
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