Pain clinics: Florida begins removing pills from pain clinics

State agents made a pile several feet tall of the narcotic pills they seized Tuesday from pain clinics in South Florida, as they began enforcing the state’s new ban on doctors and clinics selling pain pills.

More than 40,000 pills were removed from 13 of the area’s busiest pain centers — 24 statewide — that had leftover pain drugs they can no longer sell because of the new law, law enforcement officials said.

“Florida will not be known as the pill mill capital of the world,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who came to Fort Lauderdale for a news conference on the pill seizures. “They are going to be complying with the law, or they are going to be out of business.”

The ban on doctors and clinics selling narcotic and addictive medicine is part of a 100-page law that aims to end years of blatant and excessive prescribing of pain drugs. Rogue pain clinics in South Florida, and later the entire state, became the main source of narcotic pills for abusers and dealers in the Southeast. Now, pain doctors are allowed only to write prescriptions, which must be filled at pharmacies.

No arrests were made Tuesday and no citations were issued. Possession of leftover pills is not illegal. The state’s 700 to 800 clinics have until Monday to get rid of unused pills, either by returning sealed boxes for a refund or handing over pills to the authorities to be destroyed.

More than half of the 40,000 confiscated pills came from three clinics in Palm Beach County, said Capt. Eric Coleman of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The rest came from nine clinics that agents visited in Broward County and one in Miami-Dade County.

Officials said thousands more pills were removed from 11 clinics elsewhere in the state, including three in Central Florida. By comparison, federal officials say that in 2009, Florida pharmacies and pain outlets sold an estimated 420 million doses of the common painkiller oxycodone.

Broward’s pill-seizing teams started their sweep at Wellness and Pain Centers of Broward, a busy Fort Lauderdale office at 5459 N. Federal Highway that has been the site of prior state inspections and protests by anti-pain-clinic activists.

Five cars carrying about 10 agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Department of Health and the Broward Sheriff’s Office arrived at the pain clinic moments after it opened at 9 a.m. Within an hour, they emerged and drove away with clinic owner Joel Shumrak, who carried an armload of pill boxes.

Shumrak said the officials accompanied him to a shipping store as he sent the drugs back to a distributor. He had turned over some unused drugs to state officials on Friday. Inside, his three doctors continued seeing pain patients, some of whom limped into the office using canes.

“It wasn’t a raid. They came here because I requested them to be here to take what we had left,” Shumrak said. “They went through every room to make sure there were no drugs here. We were totally clean.”

Police and officials said most pain clinics and doctors stopped selling pills after the state on Oct. 1 banned them from dispensing more than three days’ worth per patient. Few have many pills left.

Still, the seizures cheered a group of mothers whose adult children died or became addicted at pain clinics and who organized Stop the Organized Pill Pushers Now, which pickets many locations.

“There were no consequences for so long, but now the pill mills are realizing that there are consequences,” said Janet Colbert, one of the organizers. “People are still buying pills in our state, and we won’t be happy till the doors are closed on all the pain clinics. But this is a good start.”

Staff writer Alexia Campbell contributed to this report.

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