By Steve Smith
As Florida continues to struggle with an opioid epidemic, many are asking, how did the problem get so big and so out of control? Why didn’t authorities do more to stop it sooner? The state was second only to Ohio in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017, the most recent year for which official figures are available.
This week’s release of federal data showing the flow of prescription opioids throughout the U.S. from 2006 through 2012 has again put the spotlight on Florida’s pill mill industry, which, in hindsight, provided a blaring fire alarm about a crisis that eventually would claim tens of thousands of lives every year.
A new LA Times story sheds some light on the subject.
Florida survives on tourism, but a decade ago, thousands of visitors made frequent trips to the state not to visit its theme parks or beaches. Instead, they came for cheap and easy prescription painkillers sold at unscrupulous walk-in clinics.
The clinics started in the 1990s and began proliferating in about 2003, their parking lots filled with vehicles sporting license plates from Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and elsewhere. The customers were drawn by billboards on southbound interstates advertising quick and easy relief — code for “We’re a pill mill, and we’re ready to deal.”
The clinics’ doctors did no diagnostic work. They just signed prescriptions and shuffled the “patients” to the clinics’ on-site pharmacies to buy oxycodone and other narcotics at $10 a pill, cash-only. Some pill-mill tourists would visit a dozen or more clinics before returning home with thousands of pills, which would be sold to their neighbors for up to $100 each. Within a few days, many again headed south to buy more.