County to crack down on "pill mills"

05/19/10 Kate Bradshaw
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It’s not just the beaches that are attracting to people to Florida from out of state. The Sunshine State has also earned a reputation for its lax regulation of pain medications. Five hundred people reportedly die from pain pill overdoses every year in the Tampa Bay area, and countless others suffer from debilitating addictions. Today the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed an emergency ordinance to crack down on the so-called pain management clinics that have cropped up in droves in recent years.

Major Donna Luczinski from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said that during a recent investigation she spoke to numerous addicts from across the country who came to Florida for cheap and easily-come-by drugs like oxycodone and methodone.

Tampa Bay’s prescription drug-related death rate of 500 a year is reportedly 70% higher than that of the rest of the state. Sheriff’s Office Attorney Chris Brown said the problem is so bad that county medical examiner’s office has had to increase its staff to accommodate the 2 to 5 prescription drug-related deaths that occur every week.

During public comment earlier in the day, some speakers offered very personal accounts of the ravages of prescription drug addiction.

Daniel Ratta said his son started on pain medication after a dirt bike accident. He said he had thought methadone was typically issued to recovering heroin addicts only one pill at a time, but found a bottle that had contained more than 240 pills in his son’s apartment. Even some commissioners had personal experience with the epidemic. Commission Chair Ken Hagan said he lost a friend to pain killers.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita is a pharmacist by trade. She says there’s a code of ethics health care practitioners must adhere to, but not everyone does. She said she sees some shocking prescription scripts.

So why are some practitioners at these pain clinics so fast and loose with their prescription pads? Because it’s big business, says Sheriff’s Attorney Chris Brown.

And despite the rates of addiction and death, the kind of regulation one might expect for an establishment dealing in pharmaceuticals is glaringly absent.

Today that changed. Echoing similar moves by their Pinellas County and City of Tampa counterparts, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to create stricter licensing requirements and limit hours of operations. State lawmakers have also passed legislation to crack down on pain clinics. That law goes into effect October 1.

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