The assumption was that Florida fixed these perversities. That new legislation had banished strip-mall oxy peddlers. That we were done with pill mills.
Wayne Douthett knows better. “It’s been going on for three, four years. It’s still going on,” said Douthett, manager of Music Arts Enterprise on Davie Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Chasing oxy addicts away from the music store has become a part of his job description.
They line up early at the front entrance of Professional Pain Management Clinic, throngs of them in the mornings, waiting for the storefront clinic to open. “Especially Fridays,” Douthett said. Some Fridays, he said, so many show up that their cars fill the strip parking lot and they drive over to hijack spaces at his music store. He described them as people not apt to make his own customers feel comfortable. “I grew up in the Bronx,” said Douthett, 58. “My wife has been a Miami city cop for 25 years. I do music therapy at a drug rehab. I know what I’m seeing.”
But this Friday, there’s not so many over there. Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s the protesters from STOPP — Stop The Organized Pill Pushers — in their red T-shirts and “Stop the Pill Mills” signs marching along the sidewalk outside the pain clinic keeping the junkies away.
Only about five patients waited at the entrance, with a demeanor that was a peculiar amalgamation of urgent nervousness and broken-down languor. Not threatening. Not unfriendly. But not folks you’d hire as a babysitter.
“I wouldn’t hire them to babysit my dog,” said a shop owner a few doors down.
She said it has long been obvious to the merchants renting space in this old plaza that Professional Pain Management was not some ordinary medical clinic.
Douthett said that it was as obvious as the armed guard they occasionally post at the doorway to manage their unruly patients.
On Friday, one of the patients wandered over to chat with the demonstrators, telling them that he was a Vietnam vet with a damaged gut and that the VA has refused to help him cope with his perpetual pain. He pulled up his black T-shirt to reveal a long scar down his belly. “I’m an addict,” he said.
There was no arguing that.
Back in 2009 and 2010 and 2011, these protests were commonplace, led by parents who had lost children to oxy overdoses. They blamed Florida’s proliferation of barely regulated pain clinics. By 2011, the 900 pill mills in Florida accounted for 89 percent of all the oxy sold in the nation, most of it peddled from walk-in, cash-only, no-insurance clinics that dispensed pills right from the premises. And most of those were in South Florida.
These retail opiate outlets attracted a bizarre influx of oxy tourism from states with more sensible regulations. So many overdose fatalities in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee were traced back to Broward and Palm Beach pain clinics that elected officials in those states begged Florida to crack down on its unfettered pill trade.
Meanwhile, we were racking up plenty of our own ODs. Florida suffered 1,185 oxycodone fatalities in 2009 and 1,516 in 2010. But the death toll fell back to 1,247 in 2011, after the Legislature was finally embarrassed into passing laws to rein in pill mills. With the new legislation, this stuff was supposed to be ending.