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Florida is Targeting Oxycodone Pill Mill Clinics and Doctors

Florida has long been the nation's center of the illegal sale of prescription drugs. Doctors here bought 89 percent of all the Oxycodone sold in the country last year. At its peak, so many out-of-staters flocked to Florida to buy drugs at pain clinics that the state earned the nickname "Oxy-Express"

But now, with tougher laws, law enforcement has moved aggressively this year to shut down pain clinics; in the past year, more than 400 clinics were either shut down or closed their doors.

Prosecutors have indicted dozens of so-called 'pill mill' operators and nearly 80 doctors have seen their licenses suspended for prescribing mass quantities of pills without clear medical need.

New laws are also cutting off distribution. As of July 2011, Florida doctors are barred, with a few exceptions, from dispensing large numbers of narcotics and addictive medicines, like Oxycodone, in their offices or clinics. As a result, doctors' purchases of Oxycodone, which reached 32.2 million doses in the first six months of 2010, fell by 97 percent in the same period this year. The ban was phased in beginning last October, with a limit on the number of pills a doctor could dispense.

"We had no tough laws in place; now we do, " said Pam Bondi, Florida's attorney general. Law enforcement agencies are also keeping a closer eye on pharmacies. Now, background checks are required for owners and employees. Violators, whether they are pharmacists, doctors or clinic owners, face stiffer and swifter penalties if they prescribe legal narcotic drugs to people who do not need them or without following required steps.

As a result, the price on the street of illegally sold Oxycodone has shot up to $15 per pill, from $8.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have worked to increase the number of arrests and major indictments. They are dealing with doctors and clinic operators as they would large criminal enterprises, using racketeering laws.

In a rare move, a Florida doctor who worked at a pain clinic was charged with murder by Palm Beach County prosecutors after a patient died of an overdose in 2009, a few hours after the doctor prescribed him 210 pain pills. Charging a doctor and a clinic owner with homicide "was a game changer,' said a Palm beach County sheriff. "You are not going to get a slap on the wrist. You are looking at life in prison."

There are still several hundred pain clinics in Florida, with many of them now migrating to central and northern Florida, to cities like Jacksonville, where the crackdown, until recently, has been less intense. In October of this year, the state will start a prescription drug monitoring system that will give pharmacies seven days to record the sales of drugs like Oxycodone.

"We have, of course, many legitimate, good pain management doctors", said the attorney general. "We are targeting the drug dealers wearing white coats."

The current atmosphere is one of aggressive prescription pill crackdowns. What happens if a person who is legally prescribed Oxycodone by a well meaning doctor or pharmacist gets caught selling it on the street? Or if that person happens to take too many pills and dies of an overdose? The police will find out where that person got it from and come down hard on the doctors, pharmacists and pain clinic owners, even if they may have done nothing wrong. Every procedure will be scrutinized. The doctor's judgment will be second guessed. They will be called "drug dealers in white coats" and indicted with racketeering laws.

It's more important than ever to have a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer at hand.

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