By Greg Allen, NPR website, March 2, 2011
Florida is the epicenter of a prescription drug abuse epidemic. Each day in communities from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale, thousands of doses of powerful narcotics like oxycodone are dispensed in pain clinics — storefront operations also called "pill mills."
When he started at the Broward County Sheriff's department 30 years ago, Al Lamberti says, the department was raiding crack houses and busting junkies.
"Nowadays, the drug dealers are working out of strip malls," he says.
Lamberti heads the sheriff's office in a county that includes Fort Lauderdale. It's a city that has become a destination, not just for spring breakers, but also for addicts and drug traffickers.
"We have more pain clinics than McDonald's," he says. "They're taking their toll."
Lamberti recently joined a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement officials at a news conference held to announce a major crackdown on Florida's pill mills. It was a series of busts, from Palm Beach to Miami, that included more than 20 arrests and the seizure of more than $22 million in cash, exotic cars and real estate.
Doctors in Florida prescribe 10 times more oxycodone pills than every other state in the country combined. People come from all over the Southeast to visit Florida pain clinics.
You know that when the abuse of prescription drugs, from what are called "pill mills" in strip malls exceeds the numbers both of McDonald's locations and their burger sales, "there is trouble right here in RiverCity."
And you also know that the U.S. addiction to medications, both prescribed and unprescribed, is legion, along with many other western countries...so you also know that whatever causes might be behind these stories including the kind of turbulence we are watching in the economy and its very slow, staggering recovery, the climate, the food price spike, the terrorist threat, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the political mush that passes for "spine" in most of our capitals, and the threat of joblessness that hangs over many homes...that those numbers are only going to grow...
Unconsciousness is one way to address the mounting experience of powerlessness and alienation that greet many people when they awaken every morning. And pain pills are one route to that unconsciousness.