Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County considers clamping down on pain clinics

CLEARWATER — In an effort to confront a growing prescription drug abuse epidemic, Pinellas County is considering temporarily banning new pain management clinics from opening their doors.

The County Commission will consider a moratorium of 180 days or longer on new clinics as part of a proposal to study how to tackle the dilemma in Pinellas. A public hearing and vote is planned for May 4.

Under the draft measure by Commissioner Susan Latvala, a task force would be created to study how clinics could be regulated, with solutions recommended by January.

During that time, no clinics would be allowed to open.

"There are some real pain clinics that service a population that needs them. This is about going after the guys who set up in a strip mall," Latvala said.

Existing pain clinics would be allowed to stay in business, but would be required to register with the county. Using that process, the county would stop pain clinics from opening 30 days after the ordinance is passed.

"I think they're headed in the right direction," said Dr. Lynne Columbus, who runs a reputable pain management clinic in Palm Harbor. "It is definitely getting out of control."

Latvala said she proposed the measure after watching the problem grow locally and seeing reports of prescription pills from Florida pain clinics winding up as far away as Kentucky. She was also influenced by a friend whose son battled a drug problem.

The moratorium is similar to recent measures in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Those counties have experienced huge spikes in pain clinics and prescriptions for oxycodone and other frequently abused prescription drugs.

The moratorium is legal as long as the ordinance calls for it to terminate at some point, County Attorney Jim Bennett said.

While Broward and South Florida has become known as a ground zero for pill mills, Pinellas and the Tampa Bay area rank just below it as a haven. Traffickers, some from out of state, seek pain clinics to sell them pills, which they then deal on the street or back home.

Local law enforcement also has tried to address the problem. The Pinellas Sheriff's Office recently concluded a 10-month sting called "Operation Pill Poppers."

A 2008 investigation by the St. Petersburg Times found that prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs kill about 500 people a year in the Tampa Bay area, three times the number killed by illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Pinellas led the state with 376 prescription drug deaths in 2008, and an upcoming tally should document more than 400 deaths in 2009, said Pinellas sheriff's Capt. Robert Alfonso, who oversees prescription investigations.

"That comes out to more than one a day. That's a startling fact for Pinellas County," said Alfonso, who estimates there are 40 to 60 pain clinics operating in Pinellas County.

Last year, Florida lawmakers passed a law creating a statewide prescription database that they hoped would curtail the prevalence of doctor shopping and pill mills.

But the database isn't yet ready for launch, which led Latvala to push for more immediate action in Pinellas.

Lawmakers have considered more regulations during the legislative session, but bills have become tied up.

With questions about Tallahassee's intentions and the database expected to remain under construction until the end of the year, counties feel pressed to respond more quickly, said Dr. Rafael Miguel, a pain medicine specialist affiliated with the University of South Florida.

That leads to moratoriums, Miguel said. He said it will stop the illegal pill mills from setting up shop, but it also prevents reputable pain clinics who treat legitimate patients from opening.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction to a serious problem," said Miguel.

David DeCamp can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.

To read the 2008 St. Petersburg Times report on the number of local deaths caused by prescription drug overdoses, go to

Pinellas County considers clamping down on pain clinics 04/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 11:54am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”