FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4)- A South Florida group and two Broward County Commissioners, along with members of the community, joined forces to protest pill mill operations in Broward County.
Broward County Commissioners Kristin Jacobs and Chip LaMarca joined members of the organization STOPP NOW — Stop the Organized Pill Pushers in “a peaceful protest” on Friday of the Intracoastal Medical Group at 935 Intracoastal Drive in Fort Lauderdale from 9 a.m. to noon.
The group wanted to bring attention to the medical group but also the statewide problem of pill mills and pain addiction.
“My son died a little over two years ago on February 15 from and oxycodone overdose,” Janet Kohn said.
STOPP NOW is a grass roots group working to impact the prescription drug trade in Broward County.
“The vast majority of the 126 million oxycodone pills that were dispensed last year came out of Florida pharmacies. Documentaries are being made in Broward County about the pill mill drug trade. I’ve been working with them on a number of ideas to close down these pill mills in our communities and I encourage people to join us in this protest,” said Commissioner Jacobs.
There is currently a moratorium on pain management clinics in the unincorporated areas of Broward County.
“These companies operate in the shadow so picketing in front of them helps all of the community know where they are so that they can’t hide in anonymity,” Jacobs said.
Kohn said shutting down the pain clinics is the key to saving lives.
“Making these pain clinics less available to them is a step, I mean, just like keeping the candy away from the baby,” Kohn said. “If it’s harder for them to get then of course it’s going to save lives.
In March, the Broward County Pain Management Clinic Task Force issued its final report with recommendations for the licensing and locating of pain management clinics otherwise referred to as “pill mills.” The Commission instructed the County Attorney to draft a model ordinance based on those recommendations.
“At the very least, this is an epidemic that threatens the safety of our community and our businesses by bringing crime to our neighborhoods and our businesses. At worst, it is a life and death issue that is claiming seven lives each and every day in our state; the lives of our mothers, fathers, children and friends. It is robbing our community of its future and we must stop it now,” said Commissioner LaMarca.
Earlier this week, the constant stream of patients going in and out of the Intracoastal Medical Group was making residents nervous in the upscale Fort Lauderdale neighborhood.
Residents said that the Intracoastal Medical Group, a pain management clinic, is seeing patients frequently and they suspect it’s a pill mill. Todd Campbell runs a business next door. He said there’s a lot of traffic in the area.
“They act as if they’re a regular pain clinic, but it seems to me as if the people are frequenting more and more often,” he said. “You see out of state license plates. You see the same people on occasion. We do have an overflow of traffic.”
The clinic is sandwiched between high rise waterfront condos and the Galleria Mall.
“Its open until 8 at night,” resident Maureen O’Connell said. “I used to feel safe walking in the neighborhood. I used to take the street right here but now I walk down another block.”
Residents said they’ve noticed an uptick in traffic since late February when the feds raided 40 pain clinics and arrested doctors and the owners of alleged pill mills dispensing thousands of pain pills.
Fort Lauderdale police said they’ve reported to the Intracoastal Medical Group 18 times in the past 16 months. Half of those calls were alarms, two were medical calls, two were suspicious incidents, one was regarding disorderly conduct and four police assists.
CBS4’s Joan Murray attempted to enter the clinic, but the clinic manager denied they are a pill mill.
“We’re not dispensing medication,” manager Geo Hernandez said. “We do not have an in house pharmacy. Doctors see patients. That’s it.”
Hernandez showed Murray a large scar on his chest telling her that he understands why some people need pain management.
“Patients come here with fusions in their neck…fusions in their back,” he said. “Some people can’t bend over. Some people don’t follow the rules. Look, it’s been proven. Look at the people that have been arrested and what they went to jail for…money laundering, you know, things that they should not have been doing. It has painted a very bad picture.”
Residents planned Friday’s protest earlier this week. The manager said he’s aware of the protest and people are entitled to express their opinion.
Broward County has been referred to as the “pill mill” capital of America. In 2009 a Broward County Grand Jury issued a report noting the proliferation of pain clinics throughout the county.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Broward leads the state in overdoses involving legal prescription medications. The number of pain management clinics in Broward more than doubled from August 2008 to November 2009.
The North Miami Beach Police Department is doing their part against pill mills. The department is sponsoring a “Pill Drop-Off Day” for citizens that would like to discard pills they may have accumulated in the back of their medicine cabinet or cupboards.
The department said it does not matter how many, what size, or what kind they are.
The community is invited to drop off unwanted or expired medication at the North Miami Beach City Hall at 17011 NE 19th Avenue in North Miami Beach on April 30th between 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
The drop off will be a convenient drive thru procedure so there’s no need to get out of your car.
For more information on this event, please contact the Crime Prevention Unit at 305- 948-2955