The war against prescription drug abuse in Florida continues even after officials closed down “pill mills” and barred doctors from dispensing medications out of their own practices. Hundreds of people attempted to open pharmacies, a move that was anticipated by officials, while others moved their illegal operations to neighboring states like Georgia.
“Traffickers adapt to situations,” says Mark Trouville, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s field offices in Florida. “We knew once we put pressure on the pill mills, the wrong people would start opening pharmacies.”
Since the crackdown in Florida last year, applications for non-chain pharmacies jumped about 80% in 2011 — to 381 — from a typical year before the crackdown, Trouville says. Fortunately, if an individual attempting to open a pharmacy has been convicted of a drug charge or has been known to have operated a “pill mill” in the past the DEA can deny their application. With at least 37 pharmacy applicants withdrawing their applications in 2011, Trouville says. “They feel the squeeze and move on,” he says.
It is frightening to think that just about anyone can open a pharmacy with very little oversight. Pharmacies are still dispensing thousands of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to people hired by drug dealers to acquire prescriptions from pain clinics. “They’re not selling Band-Aids and aspirin,” Trouville says. “There’s nothing but an empty room with a bullet-proof window.”
Sadly, if a pharmacy applicant is turned down in Florida they just move on to the next state, like Georgia, says Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency. Of new non-chain drugstore applications, about 95% have some connection to Florida, according to Allen.
“The people come completely out of left field without any pharmacy background and open a pharmacy in a sleazy strip mall right down the road from a pain clinic,” Allen says. “You do a cursory background on them, and they’re living in a doublewide in Pembroke Pines, Fla.”