‘Sunshine State’ Deemed Gateway to Opioid Epidemic

Tourists flock to Florida typically for the weather, beaches, and its many attractions. However, a recent item from ABC News adds a twist. It claims that, going back 10 years, thousands came for another reason. They journeyed to the state to visit the many “medical” clinics, which offered easy access to a certain class of substances. The “patients” walked in with a story and out with a prescription for painkillers or the pills themselves. It was that easy. The consequences were dramatic and so is the headline of this piece: “Florida ‘pill mills’ were ‘gas on the fire’ of opioid crisis.”

This was not a clandestine activity. It took place in plain sight starting some 20 years ago. Although these operations got underway before then, they sprouted up en masse in the early 2000’s and continued multiplying. Many added pharmacies on-site to fill Rx’s as a one-stop shop. The word got out in many ways, including billboards on interstate roads that advertised “quick and easy relief.” People came to Florida from states near and far. When they did, they visited numerous clinics during their trips. They went back home with thousands of painkillers to sell to neighbors and others. When their supply dwindled, they would head back to Florida and repeat the process.

So it turns out that Florida, known as the “Sunshine State,” was also known for something else. It was home to “pill mills.” What exactly are pill mills? Pharmacy Times defines them as “clinics, doctors, or pharmacies that dispense or prescribe powerful narcotics inappropriate or for nonmedical reasons.” The operations in Florida fit this description. The on-site doctors did not examine or diagnose “patients,” but rather just wrote them prescriptions. Demand soared, as did payments in cash to cover the transactions.

Cause and Effect

This was a big business, so big that it helped drive the opioid crisis. Newly released federal data document it. This information shows the movement of prescription opioids throughout the country from 2006 to 2012. And it pinpoints Florida as a center of commerce. As ABC News puts it: “Florida’s pill mill industry… provided a blaring fire alarm about a crisis that eventually would claim tens of thousands of lives every year.”

There are more angles to the story. Florida’s pill mills did not create this phenomenon alone. An addiction researcher at Brandeis University explains: “You could think about the manufacturers as having lit the fire, and the distributors and pill mills were really pouring gas on the fire.” A professor at the University of Charleston offers another perspective; the Florida pill mill industry fed mega quantities of product mainly to established users rather than new ones. Regardless, Florida served as a “very, very accessible and very, very cheap” source of opioids. 

How much of a source? In 2010, at the height of its pill mill industry, Florida was home to 90 of the biggest 100 opioid prescribers in the nation. What’s more, 85 percent of all prescriptions written for oxycodone came from that state. Put the two together and here’s what you get – in that one year alone, Florida sold 500 million pills.

Trusted medical rehab

Today, many in Florida and elsewhere suffer from the effects of opioid abuse. For them, River Oaks, part of the American Addiction Centers network, is, as it says: “the Perfect Place to Start Your New Life.” Located in the Tampa area, this premier facility is the gold standard of treatment for alcohol and drug disorders as well as co-occurring conditions. From medical detox to inpatient rehab and outpatient options, River Oaks provides a safe and medically supervised haven. Through close attention and therapies, classes, and groups, clients begin to feel better in every way.  River Oaks is so certain of these results we offer all clients a brand promise. Complete our 90-day treatment program successfully and you will stay clean and sober. If not, come back for 30 more days of treatment. We’ll cover the cost.

In today’s world, it’s important to work with sources you trust. River Oaks is one of them. It’s accredited by both The Joint Commission and the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Visit our admissions page to get started. Reach out to us. Clamping down on pill mills isn’t easy. Achieving your desired outcome isn’t either. Together, at River Oaks, we’ll make sure that happens.


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