Buchanan: Bill would toughen penalties for 'pill mills'

SARASOTA — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced today that he was proposing legislation designed to halt the rampant growth in Florida of bogus pain clinics, or “pill mills.”

Saying “drug dealers posing as doctors” are able to operate lucrative clinics that dispense addictive prescription drugs, Buchanan outlined a plan that would toughen penalties and fines.

The legislation also calls for using assets seized from pill mill operators to fund prescription drug databases in states like Florida.

Another feature of the proposed legislation is the reclassification of narcotic drugs that are most abused in order to render them more more difficult to obtain, Buchanan said.

Appearing with Buchanan was Ruth Lyerly, a Bradenton mom whose son, Todd, 18, committed suicide in 2005 after becoming so discouraged about overcoming his addiction that he told her: “‘I just can’t be helped,’” Lyerly said after a news conference.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to kill a proposed prescription tracking system designed to crack down on “pill mills” that supply pain killers and other illicit medications to drug dealers and addicts.

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 travellng to Florida to get prescription drugs. Of the nation’s top 100 doctors who dispense oxycodone, 92 are in Florida, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Buchanan's bill would double the penalties and triple the fines for drug violators and use assets seized to fund prescription drug databases in states like Florida. It also would reclassify one of the most abused and deadly narcotics to make it more difficult to obtain, according to a news release.

“Many of these so-called pain clinics are nothing more than illegal drug distribution networks that bring untold misery to our children, our families and our communities," Buchanan said in the release. “Today we take a crucial step toward putting them out of business.”

In the release, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight called the bill “responsive to the needs of law enforcement,” adding, “enhanced legal remedies such as those included in this legislation are critical if we are going to discourage unscrupulous and rampant pill mill operations.”

Specifically, Buchanan’s bill would:

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.

Stipulate assets seized from violators to be sold and the proceeds used: to fund drug monitoring databases in the states; to fund DEA enforcement actions against pill mills; and, to support drug treatment programs within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The DEA last month seized an estimated $2.5 million in illicit assets owned by pill mill owners in South Florida.

Reclassify hydrocodone combination drugs (one of the most addictive and dangerous drug mixtures) to make them a Schedule II drug that is more difficult to prescribe and obtain.

A powerful member of the U.S. House endorsed Buchanan's proposal.

“Congressman Buchanan’s bill gets it absolutely right,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, of which Buchanan is a member.

“Prescription drug abuse is trampling our communities, destroying families, and worst of all harming our children, particularly throughout Appalachia. More and more of my colleagues are joining the fight to put these unregulated pill mills out of business and the pushers behind bars," co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse.

"I applaud Congressman Buchanan’s efforts in leading his state and I believe this bill is another important and thoughtful step in our fight to end the scourge of prescription drug abuse," Rogers said.