published Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Tennessee and Georgia lawmakers eye pill mill crackdown

  • photo
    Ga., State Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold
    Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson

As police continue to combat prescription drug abuse across Tennessee and Georgia, lawmakers are trying to help with new laws that target a main source of the scourge -- pill mills.

"If you talk to law enforcement around the area, they'll tell you one of the biggest problems is the pill mills," said Tennessee Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who co-sponsored a bill this year that aims to regulate pain clinics.

Clinics with lax restrictions continue to pop up across the region, writing hundreds of prescriptions at each shop for medications such as Oxycontin and Xanax, authorities say.

"Every week we get information about another pill mill that's opened up," said Brad Byerley, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's resident agent in charge of the Chattanooga office.

Byerley said his office has about 10 pain clinics they are keeping tabs on in the Chattanooga area.

Meanwhile in Georgia, pill mills grew from about 40 to nearly 90 this year, said Rick Allen, the executive director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency.

While Georgia lawmakers have put a law in place to curb the clinics through an electronic database to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of drugs, the new database won't go online until 2013.

With previous laws, the Peach State has been more aggressive than Tennessee since authorities say many of the pill mill owners recently migrated from Florida to Georgia. The stricter laws and heavy enforcement in Florida and Georgia causes Tennessee lawmakers such as Berke to fear that dubious pain management clinics now are striking a fortune in Tennessee.

But Tennessee lawmakers said they are hopeful the new law will give the state an edge in the fight.

Starting in January, Senate Bill 1258 will make it easier for agents to target pill mills in Tennessee by requiring all pain management clinics to submit an application to the state Board of Medical Examiners for certification. The clinics are not permitted to operate on a cash-only basis, under the law, and a licensed physician must be on site 33 percent of the time.

The law also gives the state more supervisory power, with the ability to inspect the clinics and open investigations into any that have had complaints filed against them.

One feature Byerley particularly likes is that the clinic may not be owned by someone with a prior felony or misdemeanor charge related to illegally distributing drugs.

"We've seen that pattern a lot," said Byerley.

In Georgia, Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, said he plans to introduce similar legislation in next year's legislative session.

Weldon said he is meeting with physicians next week who are concerned pill mills will smudge the reputation of legitimate pain management clinics.

"It puts them in a position of having to defend themselves when they haven't done anything wrong," he said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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dt4c said...

It is really not that hard to stop pill mills. There are already laws on the books that are being broken. Just send a detective in to get a prescription without being examined. Really pretty easy but they would rather put the pharmacist in the position of being judge and jury instead of themselves. Physician in the office 33% of the time? Why should a physician not have to be in the office 100% of the time???? Why should these operators be able to open multiple clinics with no physician? No reason in the world to have PAs and NPs writing narcotics. THAT would stop the abuse. Legislators need to quit listening to the TMA lobby and stop this.

November 24, 2011 at 8:36 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Sometimes a patient knows what they need and could write their own prescription. We know our own bodies, and medical info is available online and elsewhere. Pharmacists and nurses may know enough. One old study sent 82 patients to a doctor and a nurse to see what each would prescribe. 65 prescriptions were identical, 15 were close enough to make no difference--and in one of the other two cases, the doctor was wrong and the nurse right. Regulations that force us to get doctors' signatures raise the cost of health care. Regulations that reduce competition raise prices and reduce supply. Giving sick people access to other peoples' money is a problem. Let insurance companies decide whose prescriptions they'll accept. Require transparency instead of confidentiality: anyone taking drug X needs to be on a list to let doctors, insurance companies, and health departments know they're taking it, to cut down on duplicate prescriptions and on using other people's money to pay for them.

November 24, 2011 at 10:12 a.m.
mdnich said...

I agree with dt4c. My wife had cancer and the pain management clinic out at Vanderbilt did a Wonderful job supplying her with the right pain medicine. They do require a physician's signature for all narcotics. The problem is not the law abiding clinics. It is when pills get stolen by some scumbag that the law works against the patient. My wife was in terrible pain yet could not get more pills before the 30 days was up. Fortunately; she had some left from a previous prescription that she hadn't taken all of because they changed her medication or I would have been suing somebody!! This has GOT to stop!! Sometimes, folks just can't stop thieves from stealing. It happens!

November 24, 2011 at 2:37 p.m.
cathaus said...

Why can't the family phyician do the pain management? I went to a pain management clinic and was shocked by the meat assembly line attitude. They didn't take time to listen to me & answer my question. The scrips were written up before I was seen. I was in the exam room less than 5 mins. and no seeing an actual phyician. They would get upset with me when I tried to ask questions as they would speed out the door to another patient. I ask my family dr. to handle my pain problem and explained why I wanted her to manage my problems. She does handle everything now.All my records are with her,I was treated with respect and my records would show I wasn't abusing or selling my pills.The one thing I do is hide my pills so they don't grow legs and walk off. The patient must be active in his/her health management as much as possible.

November 24, 2011 at 6:46 p.m.
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