Despite new laws, Florida still fuels ‘pill pipeline’ to Kentucky

If you thought Florida’s recent moves to stop the “pill pipeline” to Kentucky have worked, think again. “Cash-only clinics continue to operate throughout the Sunshine State, with doctors indiscriminately doling out prescriptions for such drugs as oxycodone and Xanax, often after little more than a cursory physical examination or a glance at an old MRI scan,” Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal reports from Fort Lauderdale. (C-J photo by Kylene Lloyd: Florida addict Bree Saghy shoots up crushed oxycodone, for which she has a prescription)

Florida has “new laws that forbid felons from owning clinics, strengthen penalties for doctors who over-prescribe painkillers and tighten rules for prescriptions and pain-treatment regimens,” Ungar writes for the Louisville newspaper. “But anti-drug activists and officials worry they don’t go far enough, that pain-clinic operators, for example, will continue to charge hundreds of dollars in fees to customers or send them to associated pharmacies that may give the clinics a share of the profits — and Kentucky will keep paying the price. Local law enforcement and drug-policy officials estimate that 60 percent of Kentucky’s illicit pills come from Florida. . . . Police in Hazard, Ky., say there are neighborhoods in that Appalachian city where nearly every other household includes an addict or a dealer, and Deputy Chief Joseph Engle lays the blame squarely on Florida’s pain clinics, calling the doctors who allegedly fuel the trade ‘murderers.'”

And the pills continue to be easy to get. The first step is usually to get an MRI, which gives the doctor an excuse to write a prescription. “Some bring old scans, try to pass off other people’s as their own or get new ones at Florida imaging centers that sometimes have referral arrangements with clinics,” Ungar reports. One recovering addict said he paid $500 to get an MRI and gave it to a doctor in Boca Raton. “You go down there, and they act so professional. But you are both knowing that nothing’s wrong with you,” he said.
The result has had a big effect on the Appalachian region of Kentucky. Dr. John Robert Morgan, who has worked in several Eastern Kentucky hospitals, spoke of one overdose patient “who came in with a bottle containing more than 200 oxycodone pills prescribed by an obstetrician/gynecologist in Miami. However, the patient was a man,” Ungar reports.

The C-J devotes most of its Sunday front page and four inside pages to the issue. To read it and view videos online, click here. UPDATE, Oct. 17: A second installment takes most of the front plus two pages inside; there’s also an interactive map and video narrative from Ungar; click here for the whole series.

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