Florida's Pill Mill Bill and Doctors Who Deal Drugs: Attorney Mark S. Germain Discusses the Recent Change in Florida's Drug Law

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Senate Bill 2272, also known as Florida’s “Pill Mill Bill,” went into effect October 1, 2010, increasing regulation for Florida pain clinics with the intention to stop doctors and pain clinics from prescribing unnecessarily to addicts and dealers. Attorney Mark S. Germain warns that Florida's new prescription drug legislation may have unintended consequences.

Many of the provisions in the bill appear to be ambiguous or overly broad. Doctors with real medical cause to prescribe pain medications may be more hesitant to do so because of questions about how this new legislation will be interpreted and enforced.

Senate Bill 2272, also known as Florida’s “Pill Mill Bill,” went into effect October 1, 2010. The bill increases regulation for Florida pain clinics and the physicians who own them or work there. The bill is intended to stop doctors and pain clinics from prescribing unnecessary pain medications to addicts and dealers. Criminal defense attorney, Mark S. Germain, warns that Florida’s new prescription medication legislation may have unintended consequences.

On September 28, 2010, two Florida doctors were arrested for prescription drug fraud after a five-year investigation. Law enforcement officers found that the doctors prescribed oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller, to numerous patients without any proper medical cause. In one case, the doctors prescribed the drug to a patient who admitted to having no pain, but told the doctor he enjoyed the effects of the drug. In another case, one of the doctors prescribed a sleeping aid for a patient’s grandmother without first examining or even speaking with the grandmother. When a pharmacy would refuse to fill a prescription – in one case, because the patient had recently been through treatment for addiction to the drug – the doctors would simply advise the patient to try another pharmacy.*

Stories like this are shocking because of the seriousness of prescription drug addiction. In Florida, it is estimated that six citizens die every day from prescription drug overdose.** Yet, news of prescription drug fraud is becoming more common. In June, two doctors and one hundred and seventy others were arrested for running a “pill mill” in Central Florida. Law enforcement officers say the doctors would prescribe the painkiller hydrocodone to anyone with the money to pay for it.** And in July, Florida House Candidate Ricky Perritt was arrested for trafficking hydrocodone, which police say he obtained through his wife, a former employee of a Santa Rosa County physician’s office.***

SB 2722, affectionately called the “Florida Pill Mill Bill,” is supposed to curb Florida’s prescription drug trafficking by cracking down on “pill mills,” illegal clinics that prescribe painkillers without medical justification. The bill was passed in June and went into effect this October. Among other regulations, the bill gives authorities the power to conduct inspections and impose stricter penalties on pain clinics. It also prevents pain clinics from advertising. While state officials are touting this law as a step in the right direction, Melbourne criminal defense attorney Mark S. Germain warns that the effects might not be so positive.

Mark S. Germain explains, “For many years, addicts and drug dealers have been coming to the state of Florida in order to get these medications through legal prescriptions. Florida had almost no regulation regarding who was obtaining these prescriptions because no statewide database existed. When the lines started forming around the pill mills, law enforcement officers began to realize just how big the problem had become.”

Mark S. Germain, who defends those accused of prescription drug-related crimes in Florida, goes on to explain that the legislation may be doing far more than just shutting down the pill mills, stating that, “Many of the provisions in the bill appear to be ambiguous or overly broad. Doctors with real medical cause to prescribe pain medications may be more hesitant to do so because of questions about how this new legislation will be interpreted and enforced. Nursing homes and legitimate clinics will be adversely affected. When a patient is in need of pain medication, any delay in getting that prescription due to this new legislation could cause significant and unwanted burdens.”

The legislation also provides prohibitions against advertising. Mark S. Germain discusses concerns with this policy: “The fact that pain clinics can no longer advertise is particularly disturbing. Those provisions may violate a health care clinic’s rights to free speech under the First Amendment, which applies to ‘commercial speech’ such as advertisements. The worry is that people who legitimately require pain medication might not be able to find the services they need. These problems are particularly acute for low income individuals without adequate health insurance.”

The bill also allows police to conduct yearly inspections of pain clinics and to obtain patient records without first aquiring a search warrant. “Any time you create a new maze of regulations and give law enforcement such broad powers, a ‘chilling effect’ takes place, in this case causing legitimate health care providers to change the way they provide services. Once again, my fear is that these provisions will prevent those who genuinely require pain medication from getting that medication when they need it,” Germain says.

Melbourne drug crimes defense attorney Mark S. Germain continues, “I hope that patients aren’t so intimidated by the new scrutiny from law enforcement officers that they don’t seek out pain clinics when they have a medical necessity for such treatment. I also hope that legitimate clinics and nursing homes don’t stop providing quality care just because they feel like the new bill makes running a health care clinic or providing services to lower income individuals too risky. This bill may effectively accomplish the goals of the Florida Legislature. However, it could also prevent good doctors from helping people who are genuinely in pain. Ultimately, it all depends on how the new legislation is interpreted and applied. Only time will tell.”

Mark S. Germain is a partner at the Law Offices of Germain & Coulter in Melbourne, Florida. The Law Offices of Germain & Coulter represents individuals accused of criminal wrongdoing throughout Eastern and Central Florida, including Brevard, Orange, Volusia, Seminole, Indian River, and Osceola Counties.

Mark S. Germain worked as a public defender in Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit and as an assistant state attorney in Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit before starting his own criminal defense practice. Mark focuses his practice on defending those accused of serious drug offenses including prescription fraud and drug trafficking.

References and Further Information:

*“Two Doctors Arrested in Port Orange Prescription Drug Fraud Probe.” Volusia County Sherriff’s Office Press Release. September 28, 2010. http://www.volusia.org/sheriff/press/2010PressReleases/September/100133.htm

** “2 doctors, 170 others arrested in Central Florida drug-trafficking crackdown.” Amy L. Edwards. Orlando Sentinel. June 3, 2010. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-06-03/news/os-orlando-drug-arrests-20100603_1_prescription-drugs-drug-trafficking-pain-clinics

*** “Florida House Candidate Perritt Arrested on Drug Trafficking Charges.” NorthEscambia.com. July 27, 2010. http://www.northescambia.com/?p=23296

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