Government officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the White House have identified Florida as the top source for prescription drug violations. As lawmakers work to place new restrictions on the prescription of painkillers, doctors and pain clinics are being targeted in federal criminal cases for their roles in distributing medication. It is not yet clear what the increased attention will mean to doctors who prescribe painkillers as part of a legitimate pain management regimen.
According to federal records, of the top 100 physician purchasers of oxycodone, 90 were based in Florida. Many of them are connected with the thousands of pain clinics that have sprung up in Florida over the past ten years, including an estimated 800 clinics in Orange County alone. These clinics have likely contributed to the spike in prescription overdoses, including 1,268 deaths attributed to prescription drugs in the first six months of 2010.
All of the attention at the state and national levels has caused law enforcement to increase the oxycodone trafficking charges filed by roughly 800 percent since 2005. This raises questions over how to treat doctors who must be allowed to prescribe painkillers in situations that require them. Prescription drugs are legal and a doctor can only take so many steps to ensure that the information supplied by the patient is accurate.
In many cases, an overdose is what triggers the response of law enforcement. Doctors and the pain clinics that regularly deal with prescription pain killers may find themselves under fire based on actions taken well after they legally prescribed a medication. While the state takes action to regulate the industry, medical professionals must now consider the possibility that they will face charges if the patient complaining of pain turns out to be a drug-seeker or someone looking to sell the pills on the open market.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, "How did Florida become 'pill-mill' hotbed?," Amy Pavuk, 12 June 2011