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Stop the pill shop

Illegal drugs each seem to have their time in the sun. For LSD and heroin, that time was the ’60s and ’70s. Cocaine was popular in the 1980s, and club drugs like ecstasy appeared en masse in the ’90s. Last decade, the aughts, saw the meteoric rise of prescription drug abuse, particularly of painkillers like OxyContin.

Now, abuse of legal drugs has become an epidemic, especially in Florida. Weak oversight and lax legislation governing pain clinics in the state mean the wrong people have easy access to opiate painkillers, with thousands dying as a result.

Pain clinics, or “pill mills” as they are dubbed by the media, are offices where patients and abusers go to get legal drugs. While not all of these operations are illegitimate, many present danger to society.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, it’s not uncommon for illegitimate clinics to see 80 patients a day.

Police Sgt. Dan Zsido of the Pinellas drug task force described the scene outside one Pinellas pain clinic as hectic.

“You couldn’t get by because of the gridlock,” he said to the Times. “Any legitimate clinic would not be able to see that many patients in that period of time.”

Profit-minded doctors who prescribe liberally at pill mills seem to be the source of the problem. Of the top 100 doctors who sell painkillers out of their office, 98 are located in Florida, according to the Times. The practice is a “telltale” sign of a pill mill.

Indeed, nearly 200 Florida doctors have been investigated since 2005 for complaints related to prescription drugs.

Amazingly, many are still licensed to practice medicine. Those lucky doctors owe much to the Florida Board of Medicine, which can take up to 18 months to complete an investigation. Even a felony conviction on drug trafficking charges does not mean that a doctor will be out of business, a fact that’s nothing short of jaw dropping.

With good intentions, the Florida Legislature took a long-awaited crack at the problem in early June, passing a law that regulates the creation of new pain clinics and increases oversight of existing operations.

Naturally, pain clinics have begun morphing into “injury clinics,” circumventing that lame attempt at legislation.

Despite increased media attention, the prescription abuse epidemic shows no signs of abating.

Between 2005 and 2009, Florida reported 5,887 deaths from prescription drugs, three times the toll reaped by heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs combined, according to the Times.

The perception that legal drugs are less dangerous than illegal drugs has heavily contributed to the complacency surrounding this issue.

And now, because the problem has been ignored so long, seven Floridians die each day on average because of prescription drug abuse.

Both the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Legislature need to get serious about closing the gaping loopholes in the state’s regulations that allow massive quantities of painkillers to reach drug dealers and abusers. The cavalier attitude and weak efforts both institutions have shown thus far are inadequate and represent a lack of professional responsibility.

Vincent DeFrancesco is a junior majoring in mass communications.