Anyone familiar with the current opioid crisis in the United States has heard of the impact that Florida’s “pill mills” have had in compounding the problem, but the reality is that not many understand the extent to which these facilities have actually affected the crisis. Just ten years ago, people from all over the nation were making frequent visits to Florida for more than just its sandy beaches and year-round summer weather. Pain management clinics with liberal and irresponsible prescribing practices, colloquially known as “pill mills” clinics began operating in the late 1990s and began gaining popularity in 2003. In these clinics, doctors signed as many prescriptions as possible without doing any diagnostic work in order to usher as many “patients” as possible into their cash-only pharmacies in an effort to make as much money as achievable on oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers. The Florida drug pipeline made it infinitely easier for people who were already addicted to continue getting their fix.
Why the Pill Mill Industry Flourished
In the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks, federal policies and increased border security diminished the heroin trade in the States, which in turn caused many addicts to seek alternative routes to find their fix. Because Florida hadn’t implemented computerized tracking systems for the sale of legal narcotics and because most law enforcement officers weren’t trained to handle the trafficking of legal drugs for illegal purposes, many corrupt and exploitative doctors were able to benefit from the in-house sales of narcotics they prescribed. By the pill mill peak in 2010, 90 of the top 100 opioid prescribers were doctors in Florida, while 85% of all the nation’s oxycodone came from Florida as well. In 2010 alone, roughly 500 million pills were sold in the state, and within the preceding decade there had been a four-fold increase in opioid-related deaths.
Turning the Tides of the Crisis
Because of the political role that pharmaceutical companies have played in state politics, Florida lawmakers hesitated and delayed taking action against pill mills and unscrupulous prescribers. Change didn’t come until public pressure came to a head in 2011 as a result of several newspaper and TV investigations that fueled disapproval from the public. The then newly-elected governor, Rick Scott, reversed his opposition and implemented a state narcotics tracking system and legislature with the help of then-attorney general, Pam Bondi. Legislature began tightening state drug laws, which included banning on-site dispensation of opioids, cracking down on pill mills, and setting caps on the amount of pills patients were able to receive. Within just four years under these laws, the number of registered pain treatment clinics fell from 921 to 371 due to the amount of raids on any pill mill that refused to comply or close voluntarily.
Putting out the Fire
Although manufacturers might have struck the match that lit the blaze, pill mills did nothing but pour gas on the opioid crisis. While the pill mills might have been shut down, the ramifications live on in the current opioid and heroin crisis. After the crackdown on the mills, heroin smugglers developed ways to get around the increased border security in order to meet the demand for opioids. Since 2018, the epidemic has been further compounded with the introduction of the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, which is reportedly fifty times stronger than heroin. As a result, there’s been a 67% jump in opioid-related deaths from the peak of the pill mill crisis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the opioid crisis was dealt a blow with the closure of so many pill mills, we’re still struggling to put out the fire they fueled.
Although at one point Florida might have been the mecca for prescription opioid addiction, Recovery Unplugged is turning Florida into a place where people come to heal from the harm brought by painkiller and opioid abuse, as well as all over kinds of substance use disorders. With multiple locations and residences in Florida, we want to help undo the damage that opioid addiction and pill mills have wreaked on the local and not-so-local communities. While pill mills might’ve been the gas on the fire, we’re here to be the extinguisher.