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RxOD: The prescription drug abuse crisis in Florida

Strung-out addicts may be the face of Florida's prescription drug abuse crisis, but doctors are key figures in a scourge that kills seven Floridians a day. While only a tiny number of doctors cause problems, one doctor seeing 80 patients -- not uncommon in pain mills -- can put 20,000 pills a day in the hands of drug abusers and traffickers.

A St. Petersburg Times investigation found that the system for identifying and disciplining doctors is plagued with long delays, often light penalties and testy finger-pointing among regulators, law enforcement and lawmakers over who should be doing what.

[Times files]
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[STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times]
Dr. Willem Nel talks to a patient at Gulf-to-Bay Pain Medicine in Tampa. "I'm a doctor and I'm highly trained," Nel said. "But there's a stigma that goes with this that’s out of control."
[EDWARD LINSMIER | Times]
People waiting for prescriptions are lined up by police Thursday during a raid at a Tampa pain management clinic. Many of those at the clinic were waiting in vans with out-of-state plates. Police also raided a pharmacy and a third business.?

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  • Prescription drug abuse kills an average of seven Floridians a day, addicted to controlled substances like Oxycodone, OxyContin, Xanax, Valium, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl and morphine. Where do they get the their drugs? Often from licensed pain doctors, some of whom work in the pain clinics and pill mills that have made Florida the epicenter of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. But lax laws, reluctant regulators, the tenacity of addicts and the very nature of pain have made it tough to crack down, a St. Petersburg Times investigation has found. Meanwhile, the prescription drug abuse crisis is touching all segments of society, from communities blighted by pill mills and shady pain clinics, to families grieving the loss of loved ones to addiction, to doctors, regulators and law enforcement officials trying to stop crime without depriving chronic pain sufferers of the treatment they need.
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