Monday, April 27, 2009
7 News Investigations: Pill Mills
Seven News first showed you the drug use and abuse around South Florida pain clinics, and while these Pill Mills are now getting attention, it is still an ugly scene out there. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero first broke the story last year and is back tonight with more.
WSVN -- It's the new drug war.
Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Henry Lopez: "She asked him if he's a cop."
And South Florida is ground zero. You're watching an undercover detective with the Broward Sheriff's Office.
Detective Henry Lopez: "She says she has a dealer right down the street that she can get a supply from and sell them to us."
This buy isn't about street drugs, it's about addictive pain pills that Florida doctors are writing prescriptions for by the hundreds of thousands, more here than anywhere else in the country. The pills are used and abused and sold on the street.
On this day, BSO followed Stephanie Bradley and Suzanne Alverez to a nearby pharmacy and then to a sandwich shop where Bradley reportedly sold 10 Oxycodone pills to the undercover agent.
Suzanne Alverez: "Beeping Stephanie. I swear to God."
And then Alverez made this admission.
Suzanne Alverez: "I just lost my son three months ago."
Detective Henry Lopez: "What did you lose him to? Drugs?"
Suzanne Alverez: "Drugs."
Det. Henry Lopez: "What kind of drugs? Pills?"
Suzanne Alverez: "Pills. She was laying right next to him."
It turns out her son was Stephanie Bradley's boyfriend.
Carmel Cafiero: "Yet, you're selling drugs so somebody else could die?"
Stephanie Bradley: "I have a son, but I've never done this before. I just got out of jail for violating probation."
Police say both women were carrying the same kind of pills, Oxycodone, that had killed a person they loved.
Carmel Cafiero: "So you participate in something that could cause someone else to die for the same problem that took your son?"
Florida's pain clinics have spread misery and death nationwide. People from states like Ohio and Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina come here every month. Cops call them "pill-billys." They go to multiple clinics to collect multiple prescriptions and then get hundreds of pills.
The pills they don't shoot up in the clinic parking lots or snort outside the pharmacies end up for sale on the street, either here or in other states.
Carmel Cafiero: "The mayor of a small Kentucky town sent me an e-mail about our pill exports. He says eight of the 550 people who live there make regular trips here to get drugs, which they sell back home. He wrote, 'We are trying to fight the disease.'"
And so are local law enforcement agencies
Detective Brann Redl: "This goes on all day, everyday, all over Florida. Sometimes you don't even have to get out of the car, they come running up to you and ask you what you want."
What critics want is regulation that will track the sales and stop doctor shopping, that's the practice of going from clinic to clinic, collecting multiple prescriptions.
Sen. Dave Aronberg: "Florida has become the pill mill for the rest of the country."
State senator Dave Aronberg supports a law that would track pill sales. It's something dozens of other states have already done.
Sen. Dave Aronberg: "We have to get people focused on the fact that three times as many people die from prescription drug abuse than illegal drug abuse."
While the legislature struggles with the issue, the pill mill business, a cash business, is booming outside a pharmacy. One afternoon, this man tried to block our view of people waiting to get pills.
Man: "I'm not touching the camera."
Carmel Cafiero: "Well, then don't."
Man: "I'm not."
Carmel Cafiero: "Who are you?"
Man: "Who am I? I work here."
Outside one of South Florida's largest pain clinics, we attracted attention once we were spotted in the parking lot.
Man: "Hi, are you here for..."
Carmel Cafiero: "You're on camera you're being recorded."
Carmel Cafiero: "Because we're here. Who are you, who are you?"
Man: "This is private parking."
Back at BSO, Stephanie Bradley alternated between screams and tears.
In her purse, deputies say they found eight more pain pill prescriptions written by clinics from West Palm to Fort Lauderdale.
Sgt. Rich Pisanti: "We really encounter a big wave of people that will sell the drugs immediately to pay for the drugs so they can obtain more, so we say, this is ground zero, and this is where we're holding the line."
With Florida regulation so lax that convicted felons are allowed to own and operate pill mills, it's a line in the sand that is hard to hold.