It’s been a year since law enforcement agencies in Florida began to crack down on “pill mills” that were responsible for the widespread distribution of prescription painkillers like oxycodone (marketed under the names OxyContin, Roxicodone and Oxyfast). This week, Governor Scott is calling the efforts of regional law enforcement teams a success, with 213 pill mill clinics shut down in the past year. The Governor also stated that nearly half a million pills were taken off the streets and more than 2000 drug-related arrests were made.
Despite this impressive arrest record, Florida still appears to have more work to do in ridding itself of its prescription drug problem. The number of statewide deaths from prescription drugs dropped only 8 percent between 2010 and 2011. Prescription drugs still kill more people than illegal drugs in the state. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi admits that Florida still has a long way to go in the fight against prescription drug abuse.
By 2010, Florida had earned a reputation as the nation’s center for illegal prescription drug sales. Almost 90 percent of all OxyContin sold in the U.S. was purchased by Florida doctors. Prosecutors estimated that doctors in the state dispensed 10 times more oxycodone than all the other states combined. Drug addicts and dealers from out of state flocked to more than 1,000 Florida pain clinics, earning Interstate 75 the nickname Oxy Express. The resulting prescription drug problems were especially acute in the poorest regions of the south, including West Virginia and Kentucky.
The lack of a state-run prescription drug monitoring problem in Florida contributed to the state’s prescription drug problem. The lack of oversight made it relatively easy to obtain multiple prescriptions by visiting multiple doctors, a practice known as doctor shopping. Florida also allowed doctors and clinics to distribute drugs directly to patients, leading to the proliferation of clinics that distributed drugs without medical cause. It is now illegal in Florida for doctors to dispense addictive medication from their offices or clinic and pharmacies are being monitored for their drug sales.
In addition to shutting down pill mills, law enforcement agencies in Florida arrested 34 doctors in 2011. In the past, 93 Florida doctors where on the list of the top 100 drug dispensers in the nation. By the end of 2011, only 13 made the list.
Although Florida is declaring a victory over pill mills, the crackdown on pain clinics is reported to have caused many illegal drug dispensaries to move to other states, including Georgia and Kentucky. The Oxy Express may still be thriving, but now traffic may be moving in the opposite direction.