ATLANTA – Legislation that would regulate pain-management clinics is headed for the House floor as Georgia becomes the last state in the region to crack down on the abuse of prescription medicine.
Monday, the House Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to pass House Bill 178. It would require pain clinics to register with the state, including any physician who gets more than half his income from giving patients painkillers. Also, only doctors could own new pain clinics.
Georgia has been flooded with pain clinics that indiscriminately distribute the powerful drugs – often to people from out of state – ever since Florida and surrounding states tightened their laws, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold.
“I do want organized crime to know we’re coming after them,” he said.
Weldon said he was motivated by the fatal overdose of his assistant’s nephew. Other witnesses offered similar testimony.
Vanita Hullander, Catoosa County coroner, described how 20 of the 27 unnatural deaths she investigated last year in her small county were drug overdoses. Even more wound up hospitalized, she said, including her own daughter.
“I said, ‘how did this happen? Your father is a cop. You know better,’” Hullander said, noting that the girl used to help her mother study for emergency-medical training but got drawn in to addiction while seeking relief from a back injury.
Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley told the committee he needed federal help breaking up a clinic in his town because state law provided nothing he could use, even as people were dying.
“You just have to go once to an accidental death to be committed to doing something about this,” he said.
Dr. Bruce Hines of Atlanta and a member of the Georgia Society of Interventional Pain Physicians spoke in favor of HB 178. He said some clinic operators may be allowing abuses out of ignorance and that having a state board composed of physicians overseeing them will result in reasonable oversight and better compliance.
“It’s going to assure that if you call yourself a pain physician, we’re going to regulate you,” he said.
Attorney General Sam Olens has made stopping what he calls pill mills a priority of his, lending staff lawyers to draft a bill modeled on the law Florida passed.