Crackdown on pill mills has unintended side effect for legitimat - WFLA News Channel 8

Crackdown on pill mills has unintended side effect for legitimate patients

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A government crackdown on Florida's notorious pill mill problem has an unintended consequence: chronic pain patients who really need the medicine often can't get it.

Dr. Gabriel Somori, of Florida Medical Clinic, treats about 900 chronic pain patients and says more than half of his patients have trouble getting their medication on time. He says he supported the crackdown on drug abuse, but it has gone too far.

"What would they say if all of a sudden you couldn't get your heart medicine, couldn't get your diabetic medicine, couldn't get your cancer medicine or treatment because of other people doing bad things?" Somori said. "It's just unacceptable."

The state and national crackdown on Florida's pill mills got results. Attorney General Pam Bondi led a state effort to shut down pill mills, where doctors wrote phony prescriptions for narcotics like OxyContin, Oxycodone and Dilaudid.

A drug monitoring data base was launched so doctors could check up on patients wanting pain pills to make sure they had not already received them somewhere else.

Since state legislation passed in 2011, there has been a 52 percent decline in oxycodone deaths and a 23 percent drop in prescription drug overdose deaths.

The DEA also has stepped up enforcement. Pharmacies have been fined for filling prescriptions from pill mill doctors, and the supply of opioid medication has been drastically cut.

Somori says that hurts legitimate patients who wait in long lines for their medicine and then find out the pharmacy is already out of its monthly allotment.

Bubba Hamm, of Zephyrhills has a debilitating back and neck condition.

"I literally just lay in bed and cry, I hurt so bad," he said.

His physician prescribes OxyContin and dilaudid. Together, the two medicines give some relief. Lately, Hamm walks out pharmacies empty-handed. He says he's told the drug store is out of pills, or pharmacists are afraid they'll get into trouble with the government if they let him have them.

So he ends up pharmacy shopping. On a recent shopping trip, he drove 35 miles and went to eight pharmacies.

"I think the DEA and the government are doing wrong to the people who really need the medicine, like me, at my age, I gotta have something to get me through," Hamm said.

Bruce Tipton had surgery to repair a broken back and neck. Even with the medicine, he said, he's never completely out of pain.

"You live on those pills," Tipton said.

"And then you go to the drug store and they say, 'He has drug behavior. He got made when we couldn't fill them'," Tipton said. "Well, think about it. How would you like to be up all night waiting for that one more pill and then know the next night, it's going to be worse?"

It takes just 12 hours without his pills before he goes into withdrawal. Tipton said he's embarrassed that he's dependent on the medication. But he said it's the only thing that helps him get through the day.

"It's like everything is pulling to the core of your inside and it's just big strikes of pain and it just keeps on and on and on," Tipton said.

Bondi, the face of Florida's pill mill crackdown, is hearing from upset pain management patients. She says nothing her agency did contributed to the problems.

"Our legislation does not prevent pharmacies in any way from giving them the drugs that they need," Bondi said. "That's an issue with DEA, and I do plan on talking with DEA, and I do share your concerns because I've heard it from many individuals."

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