Florida has become ground zero for the prescription drug epidemic in America. In communities like Fort Lauderdale, once a popular tourist destination and yachting center, drug dealers have set up shop in strip mall “pain clinics.” Instead of selling crack or heroin, these dealers are pushing powerful prescription drugs like oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller that is marketed under the names OxyContin, Roxicodone and Oxyfast. The pain clinics, referred to as “pill mills” by law enforcement officials, make it easy for addicts to obtain powerful prescription narcotics.
National Public Radio recently reported that doctors in Florida write 10 times as many prescriptions for oxycodone as all the other U.S. states combined.
Florida pain clinics operated by disreputable physicians attract people from all along the eastern seaboard. A typical visit to one of these clinics consists of a quick exam and a prescription for a painkiller like OxyContin. Many clinics are also equipped to fill prescriptions. Drug addicts and dealers who sell oxycodone on the street are able to walk out of a clinic with oxycodone in a matter of minutes.
Interstate 75 – The Oxy Express
Florida is not the only state impacted by the proliferation of pill mills. States to the north are experiencing their own prescription drug epidemics due to the ease of transporting narcotic prescription drugs obtained in Florida. Interstate 75 has become notorious as a route for drug traffickers and has earned the nickname the “oxy express.” In hospital emergency rooms along I-75, visits for prescription drug overdoses are a daily occurrence.
Compounding the problem for Southern states like West Virginia and Kentucky is the fact that prescription drugs from Florida are being abused by some of their poorest residents. Many of the states’ unemployed are attempting to make a living by dealing prescription drugs. There has also been an increase in crime as poverty-stricken addicts turn to robbery and fraud to support their habit.
Lack of Prescription Drug Monitoring
Why is it so easy to obtain prescription drugs in Florida? The state lacks a functioning prescription drug monitoring system that would limit people who obtain multiple drug prescriptions by “doctor shopping.” Currently, anyone can visit doctor after doctor and obtain prescriptions without fear of detection. A prescription monitoring system would also alert officials to doctors who are writing an excessive number of prescriptions for painkillers and other dangerous drugs. Many Florida doctors who operate pill mills could be stopped if a monitoring system were in place.
Government Apathy Fuels the Epidemic
Although Florida’s state legislature passed a bill that would establish a prescription drug monitoring system, they didn’t allocate funds to maintain it. When a private foundation tried to raise funds for the system, Florida governor Rick Scott spoke out against it, calling the system an invasion of privacy and a waste of money. This leaves Florida law enforcement authorities with their hands tied. In addition to conducting sting operations in pain clinics and arresting prescription drug dealers, they are attempting to convince the governor of the need for regulation and monitoring of prescription drugs.