WHAT OTHERS SAY: Why is Missouri so friendly to the 'pill mill' business?

Monday, July 30, 2012 | 3:22 p.m. CDT

Last spring, an episode of the TV series "Justified" portrayed a Dixie mafia boss setting up a "pill mill" in a mobile home and getting a corrupt doctor to write phony prescriptions for the painkiller oxycontin so that the thugs could sell the pills to drug users.

One of the lasting images in the show is of a line of strung-out addicts snaking out the door of the trailer waiting for one thug to hand over the pills while another directs traffic in the yard outside. It was funny, in a dark kind of way.

But phony pill parlors and corrupt doctors aren't fictional. Worse, they're headed here in growing numbers.

Missouri is seeing an influx partly because of crackdowns on pill-pushing operations in other states, such as Florida, the nation's leader in bogus pain clinics. There, corrupt doctors write scripts for people with a wide-range of concocted pains and ailments.

Florida authorities and the Drug Enforcement Administration late last month shut down a statewide ring of seven alleged "pill mills." That followed busts in 2010 and 2011 that shut down the nation's largest pill mill operation, a "pain clinic" started by twin brothers in a strip mill on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale.

With huge amounts of money to be made off of such operations — prosecutors said the twins sold $40 million worth of oxycodone pills in two years — the criminals are bound to head to other states. Drug enforcement authorities say drug traffickers regularly travel a route known as "Flamingo Road" to Florida where they get prescriptions and drugs and bring them back to sell in other states.

Scott Collier, an investigator in the DEA's St. Louis office, said Thursday that the crime has established itself in Missouri.

"We have already seen some of the financiers of these pill mills open up shop in Missouri," he said.

Missouri lawmakers have made it easy for illicit operators to dispense bogus prescriptions and cash in. In May, the Legislature killed a bill to create a program to monitor prescription drug purchases. Every other state in the country has such a program in place or pending legislation to create one.

In Missouri, the pill mills' best friend is state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. He filibustered the prescription monitoring bill to death. Schaaf — actually, he's Dr. Schaaf, a physician — uttered these immortal words in his diatribe: "If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool."

Aren't doctors, real doctors, supposed to have compassion for people? What happened to "First, do no harm?"

And what is his motivation in preventing Missouri from creating a prescription drug monitoring program?

Schaaf and his allies complained that the database would be an infringement on personal liberty. Really? And just whose personal liberty would be abridged, exactly? Greedy doctors? Drug addicts?

Prescription monitoring would be another tool in our state's arsenal to help prevent Missouri from vaulting into another unwanted first-place position.

As Collier put it: "If you're the last state remaining without a (prescription registry), you're probably a tempting target for criminals."

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Charles leverett July 30, 2012 | 4:20 p.m.

"And just whose personal liberty would be abridged, exactly? Greedy doctors? Drug addicts?"

Oh! Oh! I know the answer to this one. People with legitimate medical reason to take prescription meds, I believe this is probably most people who take pills.

I thought the answer was kinda obvious.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 30, 2012 | 7:41 p.m.

Charles, too bad we don't which Post Dispatch employee wrote that editorial, or we could ask them if they would like the government to track the purchases of their medicine or vice (their choice)...

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