Fort Lauderdale pain clinics are in the news, yet again. According to Sgt. Frank Sousa of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, there is an on-going investigation of three high volume pain clinics owned by a businessman named William D. Benton. The Florida Department of Health is allegedly involved as well. At this point in time, it is unknown whether there are any criminal charges pending or if any arrests will be made.
According to the online edition of the Sun-Sentinel, State officials suspended the medical license of Dr. Alfred E. Boyce, who worked at two of Benton’s clinics. Dr. Boyce, age 80, had his license suspended as recently as 2004 for his role in a case where four people were left comatose by overdoses of botulinum toxin shots at a cosmetic medicine clinic.
In the present case, Dr. Boyce is accused of “over prescribing” pain pills to six patients. Over a six month period, Dr. Boyce is alleged to have prescribed 10,800 pills, that included Xanax and Oxycodone, to these six people. Dr. Boyce’s lawyer claims that these patients suffered from chronic pain and required treatment with high doses of pain medications that were prescribed within legal limits.
As with Mr. Benton, it is unknown, at this time, whether or not any criminal charges will be filed. If so, there is no doubt that those arrested will need to hire a criminal defense lawyer who is very experienced in dealing with narcotic offenses.
Regardless, as has been discussed many times on this blog, cases like these epitomize the nature of the problem with the pain pill epidemic in Broward County. On the one hand, we have these doctors who are licensed, educated, and writing prescriptions based on MRI scans and medical records that establish the patient had a car accident, a slip and fall, or some other injury that would, at least superficially, justify treatment with pain medications.
On the other hand, you have these young, able bodied junkies, driving to these clinics from all over the country to purchase monthly supplies of pills that could be used to medicate a heard of elephants! Do you know why they come here from all over the country? Because in places like Tennessee and South Carolina, you can’t get pain medications like Xanax and Oxycontin as easily as you can here.
The truth of the matter is that if this problem is going to be fixed, the State of Florida is going to have to step it up and make some real practical changes. First, new legislation must be passed to prevent doctor shopping and fraudulent prescription writing. If we created a state run database that used electronic prescriptions, written by doctors, and marked as filled by pharmacists, we would eliminate a big part of the problem right away.
Not only would this benefit our communities by diminishing crime, but it would save us money because we would have less people in the jails and less criminal prosecutions in the courthouse. People don’t realize it, but criminal prosecutions get expensive. If we can minimize the crime, we can minimize the financial cost to the State.
Second, we need to hold the prescribing doctors responsible. Medical standards regarding true, legitimate palliative care should be established and then enforced. Doctors should be forced to stand behind their decisions or face consequences. If there were consequences to blatant disregards for medical standards, then doctors would be less inclined to prescribe medications to people who don’t seem to need them. And for the record, I am not talking about malpractice remedies. We need standards that have civil and criminal penalties imposed by the Government. As someone who generally disfavors government regulation or government involvement in our lives, I think things have gotten so bad, that we have little choice but to start cracking down harshly.
Third, we need to hold the pharmacists accountable. How can one say, with a straight face that is, that the pharmacists don’t know whats really going on. How many young, able bodied customers does a pharmacist have to see before he realizes he is dispensing to junkies? When a patient comes before a pharmacist, every month, with prescriptions for pain pills that are ever increasing in dose and quantity, at what point does the pharmacist become complicit? Again, even as someone who disfavors government intrusion, I think things have gotten so bad that we need to establish reasonable standards and then strictly enforce them.
Ultimately, the status quo is simply not working. We need to adjust to the circumstances we now find ourselves in and make changes that will solve problems. Otherwise, we will end up in a backwards spiral that is going to cost us more and more with every day that passes.