Georgia lawmakers OK crackdown on so-called pill mills

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ATLANTA — As Southern states cracked down on “pill mills,” Georgia’s lax regulation made it a magnet for clinics known for prescribing powerful painkillers to drug dealers and addicts.
The dozens of pain clinics across Georgia that authorities believe are illegally prescribing or dispensing the drugs often have parking lots full of out-of-state license plates, evidence that people are coming from hundreds of miles to seize on an unregulated industry, authorities say.

The rapid spread of the clinics led state senators to pass legislation Thursday to try to get rid of such illegitimate businesses.

“We’re one of the few states in the Southeast that hasn’t touched it, so we’re the place that all these out-of-towners come,” Attorney General Sam Olens said. “It’s a huge problem that’s killing our kids, and we need to be going after the bad actors and protecting the professionals.”

The bill would license and regulate pain management clinics and require the owner to be a doctor. The law would stop short of requiring doctors or pharmacists to use a state registry to track how much of a painkiller a person is receiving, which some neighboring states have done.

The bill, which already passed the House, now goes to Republican Gov. Na­than Deal. A spokesman declined to say whether the governor would sign it.

Because some pain clinics are legitimate, prosecuting those that aren’t can be difficult, said Barbara Heath, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s diversion program in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. If the prescriber is a doctor, prosecutors must prove the pills aren’t for a medical need.

Red flags include clinics with a large percentage of out-of-state patients, patients receiving the same large amount of the same drug and clinics with a bouncer at the door.

Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi recently passed laws targeting such pain clinics, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The DEA is prosecuting pain clinic operators who used to do business in Florida and picked up and moved to Georgia immediately after Florida passed tougher restrictions in 2011.

It’s hard to tell how many pill mills exist in Georgia. According to estimates from the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, there were fewer than 10 in the state in 2010, while the number has exploded since then, fluctuating between 90 and 140 over the past year.

The most common pills dealers and addicts want are oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are highly addictive. Some shop around the state, gathering prescriptions from numerous clinics before returning home to sell the drugs.

Georgia passed legislation in 2011 to create a program to track prescription drugs dispensed in the state, but it isn’t expected to start operating until May, in part because of a delay in funding.

“If someone were to ask me what would be the best first step to really trying to curtail this problem, I would say get the (program) up and going because that’s the information tool that’s going to tell you who’s prescribing what and who’s receiving what pills,” said Sherry Green, the CEO of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James, who has made prosecuting rogue pain clinics a priority, said the easy access in Georgia also leads more people in this state to become addicted.

He said a person with a knee injury can get a legitimate prescription for painkillers, and once it’s gone, they can just go to a pain clinic to get more.

A pain clinic is defined in the bill as a medical enterprise where at least half of the patient population is being treated for chronic pain. Affected businesses would have to get a state license beginning in July. Licenses would have to be renewed every two years.

The proposal would also require new pain clinics to be owned by physicians licensed in Georgia. Existing clinics where non-physicians have ownership with doctors would be allowed to remain open.

Green, of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, said requiring owners to be doctors is an important step because their livelihood is at stake.

“So the thought is you’ve got to have somebody with that level of accountability with a pain clinic because you’re giving out substances that are the most potentially addictive substances we have,” she said.

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nocnoc 03/22/13 - 07:58 am
I'll play devil adovacte here for a second.

YES Pill Mills skirt and break the law, but they are nothing new in GA. We have had them since the 1970's. I remember the GA authorities in 1970's busting a Doctor just down the street from Fat Mans. An he had a line down the street for years before they busted him. Plus we have had at least 2 LOCAL Pharmacy chains busted over the years here in Augusta also. So again, this is nothing new.

Ask the question why the focus on GA now? Al, Fl. TN, Ky, and many surrounding states have a bigger problem with Pill Mills.

Why does it need to be brought up and a yet another new Law now?
Is this a preemptive strike?

Regarding the Out of State tags seen in doctors parking lots. GA. is bordered by SC., Al., Fl., TN., and NC. so sure we will see out of state tags at doctors offices. But how many and where? Are we talking Savannah, Columbus, Clayton, Rome, Valdosta, Brunswick and yes Augusta which are border cities? If Out of State Tags are a Pill Mill pointer, should we shutdown University, Doctors Hospital, the Hospital formerly know as MCG, and/or the VA's because of out of state plates? NO.

But then we have the issue where Pain Management Clinics that actually treat Pain and write an large number of justified Pain Killer prescriptions. Then what do the Fed's do? Shutdown them down, an force societal functional, controlled addicts, to street drug dealers?

Prescription drug abuse is a big problem here in USA.
An has been since the free spirited 60's and 70's.

But Pill Mills are only a middle or end part of the sales chain before the consumer.

What is the cause of these addictions that produces the DEMAND?
Old Age, serious injuries, recreational users, addictive personalities, and Doctors who continue prescribe to save their patients from ongoing pain or withdrawal.

When are we going to see a NON-Addictive Pain Solution?. Likely never. Because relief from pain is an addiction in itself.

So until our Government addresses the cause of the problem and treats the cause of the problem, the users. This is just another expensive War of Drugs with no end, that we toss money at every year without winning.

BTW: The USA War on Drugs costs us nationwide 1/2 of what the Budget Cuts congress and the president are whining about.

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