Florida Shuts Down So-Called Pill Mill As Part of Reforms

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The Florida Department of Health has closed down one of South Florida’s many pain clinics, two weeks after suspending its main physician, Dr. Michael Lazzopina, for overprescribing prescription medications without sufficient medical examinations.

The Fort Lauderdale Pain Relief Center is the first clinic to be shut down under the new reforms, which were recently passed by lawmakers in order to curb a growing cottage industry of “pill mills”–storefront clinics that dispense narcotics such as the highly addictive oxycodone and Vicodin, as well as other prescription medications.

According to Department of Health officials, the suspension of Lazzopina has left that clinic without a “designated physician” who can ensure that minimum medical standards are met before prescriptions or pills are given to patients.

Broward County, Florida has become the nation’s oxycodone-sales capital, with millions of tablets of the dangerous painkiller sold per year. The number of walk-in clinics, which have opened in strip malls and office parks throughout the state, and which advertise their services to local residents and drug-seeking out-of-state patients alike, has exploded in recent months, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. There are now over 150 pain clinics in the area, some of them providing narcotics to 65 or more patients per day.

The clinics are blamed for an alarming rise in deaths due to prescription drug overdoses. In the past two years, Florida has seen a 107 percent jump in oxycodone deaths. Moreover, the state’s lax laws—it’s one of only 12 without a prescription monitoring system—have made it a destination for black-market pill shopping. Police in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and other state have seen a sharp increase in the number of drug suspects who have bought oxycodone or other narcotics in Florida.

The Legislature passed a reform law last year which grants oversight of pain clinics to the health department, as well as requiring clinics to register with the state and undergo inspections. The Department of Health has issued cease-and-desist orders to three additional pain clinics that were operating without having registered.

Some 1,000 clinics have registered since January of this year, according to records. Lawmakers are also considering whether to tighten the regulations even more, and up for debate is a law that would prevent convicted felons from owning or managing the clinics.

Lawyers for the Fort Lauderdale Pain Relief Center say that the center has been operating only as a chiropractic center since February.

 

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