Prescriptions for opiate drugs such as OxyContin are harder to come by these days in the Appalachian states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. All three states now participate in federally sponsored prescription monitoring programs that allow doctors and pharmacists to view a patient's prescription drug use history before writing or filling a prescription – a measure that can drastically reduce illicit means of getting medications, such as forged prescription papers or doctor shopping.
Neighboring Florida is one of 18 states that have not implemented such a monitoring program, and pain pill clinics in Florida now do a very lucrative business providing opiate medications to out of state visitors.
"It's the classic balloon squeeze, you cut off the supply in one area and it will leak out somewhere else."
That's how Aaron Gilson, the director at the U.S. Pain and Policy Studies Group at the University of Wisconsin described the way that tightening prescription supply regulations in one area affects the areas around it. Gilson's quote appeared in an April 25 article by L.A. Times writer Richard Fausset.
Doctors set up in store-front "pain clinics" in south Florida even advertise for out-of-state visitors on websites that claim that all a person needs in order to get drugs is "evidence of your pain." Sales in such clinics are typically conducted on a cash-only basis.
Some facts about prescription drug availability in Florida:
- There are 89 pain medication clinics in Broward County, Florida
- According to a series of reports in the Miami Herald, some pain clinics in Florida are owned by ex-convicts
- Florida doctors prescribed OxyContin at five times the national average
- The top 50 OxyContin prescribing doctors in the United States all practice medicine in Florida
- An 80mg OxyContin pill that is bought for less than $5 in Florida can be sold at the street level in Tennessee for $80.
Some pharmacists in states that border Florida have stopped filling out-of-state prescriptions.
In March, Kentucky Lt. Governor Larry Mongiardo wrote to Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul to request a tightening of Florida's prescription monitoring practices. The L.A. Times reported that Mongiardo, a doctor himself, said that some of the pain clinics in Florida were absolutely legitimate, but that "when you have pill factories like this, it gives every doctor a bad reputation."
On April 24, the Florida State Senate passed legislation that could lead to the creation of a statewide prescription database -- but previous similar initiatives have failed to make it through the House because of concerns over medical record keeping.