Attorney general wants ‘pill mill' crackdown

Published: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:33 p.m.

A commitment by new state Attorney General Pam Bondi to focus on regulating pain clinics that apparently are the source for much of the prescription narcotics being abused is welcome news to area law enforcement officials, who say they are swamped with illicit drug cases.

Bondi told reporters Wednesday that her office will not hold up efforts to regulate unscrupulous clinics referred to as pill mills, despite a call by new Gov. Rick Scott to delay new regulations until his office can review them.

"We're going forward, absolutely," Bondi said, according to the News Service of Florida. In December, Bondi hired former Democratic state Rep. David Aronberg to a newly created position to deal with prescription abuse.

Pill mill clinics dispense meds on-site and do relatively little screening of patients. Buyers can go from clinic to clinic, getting large volumes of the pills.

The Florida Legislature has enacted regulations designed to curb sales at pill mills. A key provision will bar doctors at pain management clinics from dispensing more than a 72-hour supply of drugs to patients who pay by cash, check or credit card. Legislation also requires greater monitoring of purchases and state oversight of the clinics.

Agencies are developing rules to implement the regulations. But the Legislature in a special one-day session in November voted to require legislative approval of new rules that will cost the state more than $1 million over five years. Scott, meanwhile, enacted a freeze on all new regulations until his office can review them.

Area law enforcement agencies have said that the abuse of prescription narcotics such as oxycodone is the most serious of current drug problems. Data from Florida medical examiners show that deaths involving oxycodone are increasing.

Alachua County sheriff's Sgt. Todd Kelly, who until recently was a narcotics investigator, said he believes police want stricter regulation of pain clinics and would welcome Bondi's efforts.

"It's affecting every walk of life — white-collar people abusing pills all the way down to your lowest of the low. There were people who were known cocaine distributors that were switching to distributing pills because it's more profitable and there is less risk," Kelly said. "I would definitely say that most law enforcement would be supportive of [greater regulation]."

University of Florida pharmacy professor David Brushwood, who has degrees in both pharmacy and law and who has done research in pain-management policy, wrote in an e-mail to The Sun that efforts to reduce prescription abuse must address the demand side as well as the supply side.

Brushwood said that no tough law enforcement effort has ever reduced drug abuse, adding that treatment, education and a commitment to help people with addiction is needed. Efforts to only reduce supply will fail and could make some doctors afraid to prescribe pain medication to those who need it, he added.

"The problem of prescription drug abuse is both a legal problem and a public health problem," Brushwood wrote.

"The only effective solutions," Brushwood went on, "will be solutions that combine legal and public health interventions. Legal solutions that do not seriously incorporate medical interventions and public health solutions that do not seriously incorporate legal interventions will fail. Success requires meaningful collaboration between those in public health and those in legal enforcement."

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