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Buchanan pitches crackdown on pill mills

SARASOTA -- U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced Friday that he was proposing legislation designed to halt the rampant growth in Florida of bogus pain-management clinics, better known as pill mills.

Saying “drug dealers posing as doctors” are able to operate lucrative clinics that dispense addictive prescription drugs, Buchanan advocated tougher penalties and fines.

“I will do everything I can to put pill mills out of business,” Buchanan said during a press conference in downtown Sarasota near his office.

“We’ve got to lead the effort to shut down those pill mills.”

The legislation would:

n Toughen federal penalties for pill mill operators by doubling the prison sentence from 10 to 20 years, and tripling the fine from $1 million to $3 million.

n Stipulate that assets seized from violators be sold, and proceeds used to finance drug monitoring databases, and pay for more Drug Enforcement Administration actions against illicit clinics, and more drug treatment programs.

n Reclassify hydrocodone-combination drugs, among the most addictive and dangerous drug mixtures, to make them a Schedule II drug that is more difficult to prescribe and obtain.

Appearing with Buchanan was Ruth Lyerly, a Bradenton mom whose son, Todd, 18, committed suicide in 2005 just three weeks before he was slated to graduate from Manatee High School.

Lyerly said he had become so discouraged about overcoming his addiction that he told her, “I just can’t be helped,” she said after the press conference.

She and other parents of victims were there to reinforce the message that such places should not be tolerated, they said.

Also supporting prompt action on the legislation was Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight.

A flier from Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse, of which Lyerly is a co-founder, stated about 7 people die each day in Florida due to abuse of prescription drugs.

Buchanan, who noted he has sons of his own, said he wanted the horror stories he hears so regularly from parents to stop. “I can’t imagine the hell they’ve been through,” he said.

Florida is the largest of about a dozen states that does not have a prescription monitoring system in place.

This has resulted in caravans of addicts from other states traveling to Florida to get prescription drugs.

Buchanan said in his five-county district alone, including Manatee, there are more than 40 illicit clinics.

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