Thursday, June 18, 2009
Carmel on the Case: Prescription for Trouble
Florida's state medical board is coming down hard on doctors who give out large numbers of addictive pain pills. Seven News first exposed the Pill Mills, and now investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has the latest.
WSVN -- Folks are still coming from other states to get pain pills in South Florida. Some to use, some to sell. It's a huge cash business, and there's so much money to be made, there are now close to 100 pain clinics in Broward County alone.
Young Mother: "He just told me, 'I'll give you seven pills a day, how does that sound?'"
This young mother asked that we protect her identity. She says she went to a pain clinic when her regular doctor refused to give her more pain pills after knee surgery.
Addict: "I just wanted relief from my pain."
What she got was addicted.
Dr. Fred Bierson: "This is the Florida Board of Medicine full board meeting."
And now the state Board of Medicine is sending a message to pain management doctors.
John Beebe: "People are dying from these kinds of issues."
At a recent meeting, three South Florida physicians were strongly disciplined after the Department of Health investigated how they dispensed pain pills.
Dr. Douglas Smith: "Wow, where to begin."
Dr. Douglas Smith of Delray Beach was accused by the state of over prescribing pain pills.
Dr. Douglas Smith: "Perhaps I'm just a little too easy to say yes and increase doses sometimes. I accept that."
According to the state, one of his patients died of an overdose.
Dr. Lisa Tucker: "People with legitimate pain are now having difficulty finding quality physicians because we're having to make guidelines because of people like you, and that's wrong. That is wrong, and you don't need to be practicing medicine anymore."
The board unanimously voted to revoke his license.
Carmel Cafiero: "Are you surprised?"
Dr. Douglas Smith: "Where's the restroom? Here's the restroom."
Last summer, the South Florida pain clinic on Oakland Park was so busy people stood in line to get in. At the time, Dr. Rachel Gittens was practicing here.
The state health department says it found 33 prescriptions for narcotics inside the clinic, all signed by Gittens without a patient's name on them.
DOH: "There was no documentation showing the respondent evaluated the patient."
Dr. Rachael Gittens: "I realize how serious this infraction is. That's the main reason why I left the practice where I was working previously."
Although she left that clinic, Dr. Gittens has opened her own clinic down the street, and she still sees pain patients.
Dr. Michael Chizner: "And I'm deeply concerned with her continuing with prescription of these pain medications."
John Beebe: "I think it's a great message to send that we suspend this doctor's license for 90 days."
And that's just what the board voted to do. Dr. Gittens' attorney says the board is bowing to public pressure.
Mark Rosen: "Of course pain management is a hot topic now, and the board, unfortunately, took out their anger on whatever doctor was sitting in front of them."
Dr. Lowell Adkins of Pompano Beach was next to face the board.
Tina Reed: "I do."
Tina Reed filed a complaint about Dr. Adkins after he prescribed pain pills to her son. She says she told the doctor her son was an addict who was on probation and in drug rehab.
Tina Reed: "None of those facts appeared to be of any concern to Adkins, as he continued to write prescriptions for cash."
When it was his turn to speak, Dr. Adkins apologized to Tina.
Dr. Lowell Adkins: "I would never do anything to hurt anyone."
But the board wasn't buying it.
Dr. Gary Winchester: "I think that you were giving this patient extraordinary high doses of Opiates."
And, with that, the board voted to suspend Dr. Adkins ability to write narcotic prescriptions for six months and ordered a reprimand and a risk management review of his practice.
Carmel Cafiero: "Pretty strong stuff?"
Dr. Lowell Adkins: "Yeah, I think it was too strong."
He insists the young man involved first got into trouble at another medical office.
Carmel Cafiero: "But his mother told you he had become an addict?"
Dr. Lowell Adkins: "But it wasn't from my office."
Carmel Cafiero: "But you continued to give him the medicine?"
Dr. Lowell Adkins: "Because he had a legitimate reason for needing the medicine."
Dr. Adkins' Attorney: "Thank you very much."
The doctors will now have an opportunity to appeal their punishments. Meanwhile, the board of medicine hopes its decisions send a clear message to doctors working in Florida's pill mills.
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: