TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is seeking tougher penalties as part of a four-pronged attack on "pill mills" that supply prescription medications to drug dealers and addicts.
Bondi on Thursday also announced Gov. Rick Scott has signed off on new rules designed to crack down on pill mill doctors. But they are still awaiting approval from the Legislature, which isn't expected to act for at least another month.
Also, a new electronic prescription drug tracking system remains on hold due to a losing bidder's challenge.
Besides additional legislation, Bondi's initiative includes more aggressive administrative enforcement and criminal prosecutions under existing laws and long-term prevention efforts.
Among Bondi's key legislative proposals, is a six-month license suspension and a $10,000 fine for doctors violating standards of care in prescribing pain killers. Another would call for one to five years in prison for fraud or misrepresentation in registering with the state as a pain clinic.
"Cracking down on pill mills is one of our top priorities," said Bondi. "In a six-month time span in Palm Beach and Broward counties, doctors dispensed more than nine million oxycodone tablets. We need to get a handle on it."
Just this past December, law enforcement officials in Jacksonville announced the results of Operation Growing Pains, where 17,000 pills were seized and 135 arrests made when three pain clinics in Jacksonville were shut down during a 14-week investigation.
Pill mills became a problem when some clinic operators realized they could save prospective customers six hours on their trip to Florida by opening in North Florida.
"They are coming from all over to the state of Florida to obtain these pills and to take them back up to be sold whereever they're from, be it Kentucky or Ohio of wherever," said Detective Lorri Hall of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. "They can be sold anywhere from $25 to $50 each."
"It's also changed the drug wars in the state from a law enforcement perspective because they sell these pills on the street like they used to do with crack cocaine in the 80s," she said. "I mean, you can buy them anywhere."
It is estimated that seven Floridians die every day because of prescription drug use; police say pill mills are feeding the problem.