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Agents haul items out of suspected pill mill

DEERFIELD BEACH — Boxes of documents, supplies and two cars were hauled away from a Broward pain clinic on Thursday by agents from multiple law enforcement organizations.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman David Melenkevitz said when agents arrived at Coast to Coast Health Management about 10 a.m., nearly two dozen clients were in the parking lot, and at least one of them was arrested for drug possession.

People familiar with the neighborhood near the clinic, at 328 Hillsboro Blvd., said it opened earlier this year and has become something of a nuisance, attracting vehicles with out-of-state tags that sometimes crowd parking spaces near the facility.

Some curious passers-by watched as the agents removed items from the clinic and placed them in vehicles to be carried away.

"What took you so long?" Wayne Funkhouser asked Melenkevitz, the DEA spokesman.

Funkhouser said his doctor used to be in the building housing the Coast to Coast clinic, and he's glad authorities are investigating.

Neighbor Charles Wolf makes regular trips to the post office across the street from the clinic. Seeing the raid led him to a realization, he said.

"On many different occasions I've seen people walking around looking like they may be a little bit drunk," Wolf said. "I never associated the two, but now it makes sense" there would be disoriented people at the health clinic, he said.

The DEA would not provide details about the target of or reason for Thursday's raid.

Despite the law enforcement action, Melenkevitz said there is nothing to prevent the clinic from opening for business Friday unless the Florida Department of Health takes action.

State health investigators joined the DEA, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Broward Sheriff's Office at the scene of the investigation that was expected to continue late into Thursday night as evidence was gathered in dozens of cardboard boxes.

Melenkevitz indicated Thursday's raid was part of an ongoing investigation.

A rash of law enforcement actions began in March as several agencies swooped down on certain wellness centers, pain clinics and other prescription businesses called "pill mills" across Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The Florida Legislature passed a law that took effect Oct.1 targeting health clinic operators who appeared to be little more than pill pushers. Now, they can only prescribe enough pills for three days, cannot advertise that they sell pain pills or name the pills, and must register with the state and open their doors to inspections.

Failure to comply means the state could yank a clinic's registration and close its doors, fine it $5,000 a day, or charge owners and doctors with a felony.

Several doctors were charged before the new law was in place.

Dr. Henry Blady, 62, who worked at the Dermatology Association of the Palm Beaches in Delray Beach, was charged with trafficking opium, obtaining controlled substances by fraud and criminal use of personal identification information of the deceased, for allegedly using the names of dead people, including his mother-in-law, to obtain 4,000 oxycodone prescriptions.

Dr. Sergio Rodriguez, 54, was indicted on charges ranging from trafficking and selling various prescription painkillers to first-degree murder, after three clients died of overdoses.

Prescription pain clinics started popping up around Broward a decade ago, but they quickly spread across Florida as clients came from other states to take advantage of lax local laws. Those clients would either use or sell Xanax, oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone and other painkillers for $8 to $10 per pill, according to investigators.

In Florida alone, prescription drugs were blamed for causing nearly 2,500 deaths in 2009.