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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pam Bondi unveils pill mill crackdown strategy



Attorney General Pam Bondi today announced a multi-pronged strategy to address so-called pill mills, including legislative recommendations.

"We are the epicenter for the country in prescription drug abuse," she said at an hour-long news conference in Tallahassee. "Cracking down on pill mills is one of our top priorities."

Key provisions of Bondi’s legislative proposal include:

• Mandatory six-month suspension and $10,000 fine for doctors who violate standards of care when prescribing controlled substances.

• A third-degree felony conviction for anyone who fraudulently registers as a pain clinic.

• Criminal penalties for doctors who fail to perform a physical examination before dispensing 72 hours’ worth of controlled substances.

• Fines for keepers of controlled substances who fail to report thefts to law enforcement within 48 hours.

Florida lawmakers have already passed laws to combat the problem, but implementation of some have been stalled.

Plans for a prescription drug database are on hold while vendors competing to run the program argue over the contract. And rules that, among other things, would set caps on how many prescriptions a physician can write each day and require doctors to perform adequate physical exams before writing the prescriptions are awaiting approval from the legislature. Those rules were in the works but a law passed in a special session in November stopped them until they could undergo an economic impact study and get approval from the legislature.

Bondi said she hopes lawmakers will make approval of the rules their one of the first actions they take when the legislative session begins in March.

At the request of Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Board of Medicine also handed the rules over to his office for review. They were among 900 rules submitted for perusal by the governor under an executive order. He has released about two dozen. The pill mill rules are among them, Bondi said.

"We thank the governor for his support in this very serious matter," she said.

Bondi, though, said her multi-pronged approach will involve more than just legislation. She also wants more administrative oversight of pain clinics and doctors; increased criminal prosecution; and prevention. She shared the dais at the news conference with state and federal law enforcement officials, the vice chairman of the state Board of Medicine, and attorney and former south Florida Sen. Dave Aronberg, whom Bondi hired to serve as Florida’s drug czar. South Florida has been particularly hard hit, with 9 million oxycodone tablets prescribed in Broward and Palm Beach counties in the first six months of 2010, she said.

"These are legal drug dealers," Aronberg said. "There are now more pill mills in Broward County than there are McConald’s in Broward County."

Statewide, there are more than 1,100 license pain clinics, but pill mills also bill themselves as urgent or well care centers or as offering other services.

"Perhaps most cruelly, detox centers where they outpatient detox by giving these patients the same drugs they’re addicted to," Aronberg said. A statewide response is necessary to end "drug tourism," he said.

To help seal convictions, statewide prosecutor Nick Cox said the Bondi’s office would assign a prosecutor temporarily to Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober’s office to assist with prosecutions.

Lorri Hall, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer, said drug dealers sell the pills for $25 to $50 each.

"They can make a lot of money doing this," she said. "They sell these pills on the street like they used to do crack cocaine in the ‘80s."

Lines start forming outside the doors of clinics hours before their 9 a.m. opening, and people wait for hours for their prescriptions, Hall said.

Doctors are paid up to $300 in cash for each consultation, which can reach 100 daily, she said.

At the news conference, Pam Marsh, U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Florida, offered this advice to parents: "Lock your medicine cabinets."

She said her office has learned of teen-age "Skittle parties."

"Kids are literally raiding their parents and their grandparents medicine cabinets, getting together with their friends, dumping the bottles into one big bowl and popping pills. They don’t even know what they’re taking," she said.

The combinations can be deadly. An estimated seven people die every day in Florida from prescription drug use.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 4:32pm]


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