Law enforcement and regulatory officials were busy this week in Seminole and Volusia Counties as state and local authorities moved to shut down three pain clinics that officials referred to as Pill Mills. Local media reported on the arrests of Drs. Neil Stringer and Ralph Chambers, Jr., in connection with two pain clinics that they owned and operated in Sanford and Orange City. On the same day, the Florida Department of Health revoked suspended the medical license of Dr. Ataur Rahman — who owned and operated a pain clinic in Port Orange — while law enforcement officials conclude an investigation into his pain medication prescription practices.
Apparently, Drs. Stringer and Chambers — who operated clinics under the moniker “New Hope” — had been under investigation for five years. Law enforcement officials first became suspicious of the doctors after prescription overdose deaths had been connected with their clinic. A review of pharmacy records showed that the New Hope clinics were responsible for prescribing 190,000 pain pills over a three month period. Although several pain medications were prescribed, oxycodone was by far the most frequent. As I have written previously, Florida pain clinics are some of the nation’s largest prescribers of oxycodone.
An undercover investigation of the New Hope clinics revealed the physicians often prescribed medication without performing physical examinations. Prescriptions were sometimes issued for family members of undercover agents who were not even present. Further, powerful pain medication was prescribed to a patient who admitted to having recently tried to kill herself by painkiller overdose. Many of the clinics’ frequent patients had criminal backgrounds and histories of problems with prescription drugs.
On the hand, the investigation against Dr. Rahman was only a few months old. The probe began in response to complaints from pharmacies, families of patients who were being provided with large amounts of drugs, and other concerned citizens. It is important to note that Dr. Rahman has not been charged with any crime as of the time of this writing.
A common aspect of both stories is that all of the involved clinics were essentially “cash only” businesses, although the New Hope clinics also apparently accepted some Medicaid payments. Of course, accepting cash only is one way of avoiding a paper trail that could be used to track drug purchases.
Pill mills are a growing problem in Central Florida. I commend the authorities for getting tough on the people prescribing all of this medication. At the same time, as an Orlando personal injury attorney, I understand the importance of legitimate pain clinics to the care of people with chronic pain problems.
What do you think? How do we find the right balance here?