Georgia lawmakers say “pill mills” are a growing problem in that state because it doesn’t have a database to track controlled drugs. Sen. Buddy Carter says database programs in surrounding states are chasing bogus pain management clinics into Georgia. The clinics are fronts for unscrupulous doctors who make money by overprescribing prescription pain relievers.
To combat the problem, Carter introduced legislation called the Patient Safety Act. The law sets up a database maintained by the State Board of Pharmacy to track controlled drugs that are prescribed and dispensed throughout Georgia. Law enforcement officers could access the database only by subpoena.
The Patient Safety Act was passed by the Georgia Senate, but it failed in the House. Sen Carter says he’ll introduce the bill again next year.
What does someone without medical insurance and who's got legitimate medical problems and pain have in common with someone addicted to prescription pain killers? They both may be waiting in the same line to get into one of the thousands of "pill mills" across the US.
Usually pill mills are easy to spot. A sign on the side of a building or in a window may read, "Pain Clinic" or "Pain Management Office," or something similar. There's usually also a sign reading, "Medication Dispensed Here," or another phrase telling the public they can get the pills they want immediately. It's also not uncommon to see a sign, "Out of State Patients Welcome."
Pill mills are, essentially, mini-clinics or medical offices with a doctor on staff and on the premises. No appointment is needed, because, as the sign usually reads, "Walk-ins Are Welcome." People come to the office for one reason only: To get prescription drugs they can't get elsewhere. The reasons vary. The "patients" may not have insurance, may not have a family doctor willing to prescribe the medication, or they simply want the pills to sell - drug dealers.
In most pill mills, patients see the doctor, even if it is for a few minutes. The doctor may give the patient a quick once-over, or he may simply ask what pills or medication each patient wants. The patient is then either given a prescription, or more often than not, they pay for and get the pills immediately. Most pill mills only accept cash. In fact, in some clinics, patients are charged more for prescriptions than for the drugs themselves.
Pain killers like Oxycontin and anti-depressants are the drugs of choice. Patients are usually charged more for the pills than they would pay at a pharmacy. And patients often are able to get more pills or prescriptions in one visit than a doctor would normally prescribe.
It's easy to see the problems presented by these clinics. While there may be cases where patients have a legitimate need for such clinics, it seems clear most patients are using pill mills for one of two reasons:
- To feed an addiction to prescription medications, especially pain killers
- To gain access to these drugs to sell elsewhere
Patients are in fact traveling to other states to take advantage of pill mills. Florida is a hot-spot. It's been reported, for example, that there are more pill mills than McDonald's restaurants in some areas. Thousands of pills and prescriptions from Florida have been seized in Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
State and local governments are taking notice of the problem and taking action. In Florida, a new law is in the works that would do a number of things to control pill mills, such as:
- Requiring FBI background checks for pain clinic owners
- Barring felons and doctors not in good standing from owning or running a pain clinic
- Create the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to track who's buying prescription drugs and how much
- Limit the amount of drugs that may be sold or prescribed at one time
Many states already have laws similar to the proposed Florida law.
Some cities are taking strong stances against pill mills, too. They're putting "moratoriums" on the opening of new pain clinics. That is, they're telling would-be owners there are no more openings in the city until further notice. For example, in March 2010, Kennesaw, Georgia put a one-year ban on new pain clinics that aren't associated with a hospital, drug treatment center, or hospice. As of mid-May, 2010, the city of Bradenton, Florida is working on a similar moratorium.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), millions of Americans are abusing or are addicted to prescription drugs. Pill mills simply fuel the addictions and abuse. If you suspect a pain clinic in your area isn't legitimate but is simply handing out drugs to anyone and everyone who wants them, call your local police department. If you don't like pill mills operating in your area, you should contact your state lawmakers, as well as your local leaders, and ask them to pass laws to put an end to abusive pill mills.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can a pill mill be sued and held liable for the injury or death of someone who overdosed on pills he got from the pill mill? What about a pharmacist who fills a pill mill prescription?
- Are pharmacists required by law to fill any legitimate prescription brought to them by patients?
- I heard that it's illegal to carry more than certain amount of things like alcohol and cigarettes over state lines. Is there a similar law for prescription drugs?