Last week, the FBI and DEA raided and shut down two rogue pain management clinics in Jacksonville.
Records show that one of the clinics had dispensed 611,000 oxycodone pills in April and May of this year alone.
"Pill mills,” as these clinics are referred to as, have become increasingly popular as the growing problem of prescription drug abuse grips our nation.
Claiming to be pain management clinics, these facilities are in reality nothing more than fly by night operations that set up in communities to make a quick buck. They infest our communities, bringing increased crime and abuse and give legitimate pain management clinics a bad name.
The non-medical use of prescription pain-relievers is now the second most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the nation, accounting for over 30 percent of all drug abuse in our country. It is our country’s fastest-growing drug problem and poses a serious threat to public health and safety.
In Georgia, we have a particularly bad problem with pill mills locating in our state because we are one of the few states that does not have a database of controlled drugs that can be accessed by prescribers and dispensers.
Making matters worse is that every state that borders us has a database program in place, chasing the pill mills out of their states and into ours.
The problem has become so prevalent in the greater Atlanta area that Cobb County has declared a moratorium on the opening of new pain clinics in order to try and get the problem under control.
Pharmacies located where these pill mills have opened have reported shortages in certain pain medications, resulting in legitimate patients being unable to obtain their medications.
It is because of these illegitimate pill mills infesting our state that during the last legislative session, I introduced SB 418, the Patient Safety Act, to set up a database of controlled drugs that are prescribed and dispensed in our state.
Working with three of the most conservative members of the state Senate, we crafted legislation that would have created a database maintained by the State Board of Pharmacy and accessible only by the Georgia State Medical Board and licensed prescribers and dispensers in our state. The database would be accessible by law enforcement by subpoena only.
Dispensers of controlled substances would be required to report on a weekly basis all controlled prescriptions filled and the information would be added to the database. All HIPPA regulations dealing with patient privacy would be followed and access to the database would be by personal passwords issued by the Board of Pharmacy only. Stringent penalties – in some cases $250,000 and imprisonment – would be accessed to those individuals who knowingly requested, used, obtained or released any information in violation of its purpose.
The legislation was supported by state medical associations, pharmacy associations and the American Cancer Society, a group that has a special interest in pain management.
As one adamantly opposed to more government intrusion into our lives, this was difficult legislation for me to consider. It was especially difficult for my fellow senators who helped craft the legislation as all three had opposed similar legislation before.
However, like myself, they recognized the magnitude of the problem and the need to address the situation and worked responsibly to help make the legislation as effective, yet non-intrusive as possible.
As a pharmacist, I have spent my professional career trying to help people live healthier lives through medication management. Pain management has been a big part of that. As a consultant to Hospice Savannah for many years, I dealt with patients with unbearable pain, whose only relief was with pain medication in excessive doses.
As a legislator, I have worked on numerous health care issues, including chairing a Pain Management Study committee in 2007 that led to changes that helped raise Georgia’s pain management rating from a D to a B-.
Although the Patient Safety Act passed the Senate last year, it failed to pass in the House. I will be introducing the legislation again next year and will work diligently to have it passed.
Our state deserves no less- we must rid our communities of these “pill mills” and the infestation of crime and abuse that they bring.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Room 302-B, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.