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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | County bans ‘pill mills’ in swift action

BRADENTON — After listening to Toni Bush talk about how her two adult sons fought prescription drug addiction, the Manatee County Commission on Tuesday unanimously adopted an ordinance to deal with the proliferation of pain management clinics in the area.

Bush, a life-long resident of the county, said the trend of increased use of illicit and prescribed drugs is alarming.

“I have two sons currently in treatment for opiate addiction, both of whom were prescribed exorbitant doses of oxycodone by licensed physicians in licensed pain clinics in Florida,” she said in an emotionally-charged statement to commissioners.

“I believe that because these pills are FDA-approved and prescribed by doctors, young people do not take seriously the risk of addiction,” Bush said, “which results in a downward spiral, leading to a host of social and economic problems, including job loss, homelessness, health risks and incarceration.”

This personal story and those of several other mothers, along with staggering statistics the commissioners heard experts deliver, led the county board to declare an emergency and adopt the ordinance that will make it difficult for clinics that solely provide prescriptions to operate locally.

Assistant County Attorney Jim Minix told commissioners data and reports indicate there is a crisis with prescription drug overdose deaths increasing.

According to a Broward County grand jury report, Minix said, in 2008 there were 3,750 lethal dose reports of prescription drugs detected in deceased persons in Florida.

Dr. Russell Vega, the state medical examiner for the 12th Judicial Circuit, which includes Manatee County, brought the statistics closer to home, saying there were 36 deaths due to prescription drug overdose in Manatee County in 2009.

Of those deaths, 12 were caused by a single drug, while the remainder were caused by a combination of prescription drugs, Vega reported.

“And we’re well above 2009 figures so far this year,” he said.

Capt. Pat Bartholomew, with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said, “the pill mill problem is epidemic.”

These clinics have been labeled “pill mills” because of the ease for people to obtain prescriptions for large numbers of controlled substance medications, such as morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

“These prescription drugs are easy to obtain,” Bartholomew told the commission. “People are prescribed the maximum of 240 pills.”

He also noted a majority of those using the pill mills are from out of state, because Florida has lax prescription drug monitoring laws, unlike other states and are finding their way onto the street in illicit sales.

Commissioner Joe McClash said the situation was truly an emergency.

“People don’t gravitate to communities that have laws against (such places),” McClash said. “There’s no shortage of legitimate places for people to get medical assistance for pain management.”

The problem with pill mills came to a head when the 1910 Medical Clinic opened at 1910 Manatee Ave. W. in Bradenton. It moved a couple of months later to Ellenton.

Ruth Lyerly, with Family Against Drug Abuse and whose son died of a prescription drug overdose, said there were 19 pain clinics in the county prescribing and dispensing large amounts of opiate drugs, such as oxycodone.

The new code, which takes effect immediately, requires privately owned clinics that prescribe or dispense narcotic medications, that employ a physician primarily engaged in writing prescriptions and accept only cash, check or credit card payments to apply for a permit within 30 days.

If such clinics do not receive a permit, the owners will be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment.

Also, the ordinance established a 180-day moratorium on operating pain management clinics after the 30-day application period, even with a permit.

On Oct. 1, the end of the moratorium, a state statue will go into effect regulating all privately owned pain management clinics by limiting prescription dosage to only 72 hours worth and requiring certification of the facility ownership.

Minix said county commissioners may want to enact stronger regulations before the moratorium ends.

In the county ordinance are several exemptions for doctor’s offices or clinics that provide narcotic medications or prescriptions.

The ordinance also covers the municipalities that have not passed similar codes.

So far, Bradenton is the only city in the county to adopt a moratorium on pain management clinics, and the Palmetto city council was planning on considering one at its next meeting.