Monday, November 10, 2008
Carmel on the Case: Pill Mills
Tourism has always been important to South Florida. But these days, we are attracting a new kind of tourist. They're not coming for our beaches. They're here for prescription drugs. Seven's Carmel Cafiero investigates local Pill Mills.
WSVN -- They come from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia to visit pain clinics like this one.
Sgt. Lisa McElhaney, Broward Sheriff's Office: "The appearance is they are pill mills simply handing drugs out hand over fist."
They come to buy pain pills by the hundreds from clinics that give out the dangerous narcotics.
Sgt. Lisa McElhaney: "We're talking to hundreds of thousands of individuals trafficking into the State of Florida specifically to obtain pharmaceutical drugs."
And this is the kind of activity these pill mills generate. Right after getting pills from a clinic, this man crushed some up, mixed them with a liquid and then shot up in the clinic parking lot in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
We also caught people crushing and snorting pills, here in a pharmacy parking lot right after filling a prescription and here in the parking lot of a pain clinic.
And when they leave the clinics high, police say some die in accidents or overdose on the side of the road. Some patients do have legitimate pain problems. But others do not. They're addicts.
Carmel Cafiero: "Good morning, sir. Are you waiting for somebody who went into the pill clinic?"
This man is from Kentucky. He told us he was here with a friend who has a bad back, and then he said the man had cancer.
Carmel Cafiero: "Aren't there doctors in Kentucky?"
Kentucky man: "I don't know, I don't think so. I don't think anybody will help him up there."
Law enforcement believes most customers are getting pills to get high or sell or both, and they're buying a lot of them.
One pill can bring in $80 in some states.
Detective Josh Passman, BSO: "The average I usually see is anywhere from 180 to 280 per person."
We saw bizarre behavior, as we watched the clinics. This man is trying to hide his stash of pills in his pant leg. This one is digging in his pants to take something out. He tossed a bag full of urine under our car. Experts say patients often take clean urine to the pill mills in case they get drug tested.
So why do all these people travel here to South Florida? Authorities say it's because we make it easy for them to get pills.
Lisa McElhaney: "There is no set standard on what these physicians can give them."
Broward County is the number one dispensing site for Oxycodone in the entire country, according to DEA statistics.
Doctors here handed out more than 3.3 million pills in just the first six months of the year. Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade rank second and third.
Lisa McElhaney: "Obviously, we are beyond epidemic proportions."
But the problem for law enforcement is that what the clinics are doing is perfectly legal.
Paul Daly: "It's just embarrassing that we've gone this far, and it has grown to this degree."
Paul Daly is a member of the Broward United Way's Commission on substance abuse. For years the United Way has unsuccessfully tried to get Florida lawmakers to pass a prescription drug monitoring program.
Paul Daly: "And it's just sickening to see them ignore their responsibilities under these circumstances."
Thirty-eight other states already track prescriptions. Who's writing them? Who's filling them, and who's taking them? We wanted to talk to the doctor working at this pain clinic off Cypress Creek.
According to state records, Dr. Joseph Enock is certified in obstetrics and gynecology, but he lists the pain clinic as his address of record.
Carmel Cafiero: "Are you certified in pain management?"
He would not answer questions about his pain clinic practice.
Carmel Cafiero: "Why do you think so many people are coming from out of state to see you here?"
Unidentified man: "Because they're from the Bible belt states, and they can't get pain medication."
The man who answered would not give us his name but did say he might be one of the owners of the clinic.
Christopher George legally operates the busy pain clinic.
Carmel Cafiero: "We have pictures of people snorting, shooting up in this parking lot after coming out of your clinic. What do you have to say about what's going on here?"
Christopher George: "I don't believe you're right."
Carmel Cafiero: "That's all you have to say?"
Carmel Cafiero: "Florida's Department of Health has gone on record in favor of a drug monitoring law. But until that law is in place, experts predict our dubious distinction as a haven for pill mills, will only get worse."
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: