October 26, 2009
By David Gutierrez
Florida has become the nation’s capital for illegal acquisition of prescription medication, according to local and federal law enforcement officials.
“Broward County has become the Colombia for pharmaceutically diverted drugs,” said Hollywood police Capt. Allen Siegel, who directs a narcotics task force. “We’re supplying everywhere.”
Florida’s state laws have led to a thriving industry of clinics offering narcotic painkillers and other prescription drugs to anyone who walks in off the street, even from out of state. Some clinics advertise on bus benches, billboards or in weekly newspapers, while others offer incentives like coupons or even gasoline vouchers. Their patients come from all across the country, officials say.
“This medicine is about profit-making,” said Mark Trouville, special agent in charge of the Miami office for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). “I hate to call them doctors. These people are just out to make money.”
The DEA has opened up two units devoted entirely to South Florida pain clinics.
Florida’s lax regulations not only allow walk-in prescriptions, they also allow doctors to distribute pills directly to patients, do not provide for tracking of prescriptions, and do not take away prescribing rights from doctors who have been convicted of crimes.
In the last six months of 2008, Broward County pain clinics alone distributed more than 6.5 million oxycodone pills, or nearly four for every county resident. The county is home to 33 of the top oxycodone prescribers in the country, and the top 50 are all in Florida. The state is the biggest distributor of the drug in the United States, beating out California (which has twice the population) by 40 percent.
Officials believe that the Florida clinics have contributed significantly to the state’s recent surge in deaths from prescription-drug overdoses. The number of these deaths increased by 107 percent between 2005 and 2007, and has continued to rise since then.