Pill mills have long been a major problem in the state of Florida. According to a New York Times article in August of 2011, doctors in Florida bought 89 percent of all Oxycodone sold in the entire United States in 2010. This Oxycodone was sold at more than 1,000 “pill mills” nationwide, earning the state of Florida the nickname of “Oxy Express.”
Florida Pill Mill Laws
In an effort to curb the illegal distribution of prescription drugs, Florida has developed tougher laws intended to stop doctors and pharmacists from administering Oxycodone without a legitimate need. New laws impose additional limitations on the distribution of controlled substances as well as establish tougher penalties and mechanisms for greater scrutiny of doctors and pharmacists.
In addition to the strict Florida laws designed to prevent pill mills, various federal laws also limit the distribution of prescription drugs. These federal laws have been used to convict doctors and pharmacists throughout Florida and to send practitioners to federal prisons.
Unfortunately, while the laws intended to prevent pill mills were designed with solid policy reasons in mind, some individuals face severe criminal penalties that are often undeserved or disproportionate in light of the alleged crimes committed. If you have been accused of violating federal or state laws through your involvement with an alleged pill mill, it is essential to contact a Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer at our firm as soon as possible. At Stechschulte Nell, we have the experience to help you defend against accusations of drug trafficking or prescription drug abuse. Contact our legal team today to learn how we can help.
What is a Pill Mill?
A pill mill refers to a clinic where doctors prescribe controlled prescription drugs to patients without a legitimate medical need. For example, according to Yahoo News, one agent who visited an alleged pill mill was given a prescription for Oxycodone after being asked to touch his toes and having his heart checked.
A pill mill may also refer to a pharmacy that distributes prescription Oxycodone or other medications without a legitimate prescription or with no legitimate patient need.
Florida was a popular location for pill mills because, until recently, there were limited safeguards in place. While prescription drugs have long been classified as controlled substances and illegal distribution or purchasing has traditionally been considered a criminal act, Florida had no widely used monitoring system for prescription drugs and state regulations were lax. New laws passed in Chapter 893 of the Florida Code addressing Drug Abuse Prevention and Control have changed the prescription drug climate in Florida. Unfortunately, these new laws and the strict enforcement mechanisms in place can result in criminal penalties that some individuals do not deserve.
Florida Crackdowns on Pill Mills
Under Chapter 893 of the Florida Code addressing Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, Florida laws impose strict limitations on the prescription and distribution of controlled substances:
- Valid Prescription. According to 893.04, pharmacists can dispense controlled substance only with a valid prescription from a practitioner. The prescription must contain detailed information about the prescription, the patient, the practitioner and the dosage, among other things.
- Good Faith. According to 893.05, practitioners can only prescribe controlled substances in good faith and in the course of fulfilling professional obligations.
- Drug Monitoring Program. According to 893.055, a prescription drug monitoring program has been created in Florida and prescribers and pharmacies must comply.
The new Florida laws intended to reduce the number of pill mills also prevent doctors and practitioners from distributing drugs directly from their clinics, and require background checks of pharmacy owners and employees.
Doctors and practitioners who violate the law are also subject to criminal drug charges in Florida including drug trafficking charges. Under Florida’s anti-pill mill laws, penalties have also become more stringent for pharmacists and practitioners who are accused of operating pill mills.
Federal Crackdown on Pill Mills
Like the state of Florida, the federal government also has a schedule of controlled substances that includes prescription medications. Therefore, when a physician or pharmacist is operating a pill mill, the practitioner can be charged under federal drug trafficking laws. It is essential that you contact a Clearwater criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you are suspected or charged with trafficking.
Those who operate pill mills face not just federal drug charges, but also other federal criminal charges including conspiracy to commit money laundering, and racketeering. In one recent case reported by the Sun Sentinel, two South Florida doctors were also charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances resulting in death – a federal charge that could lead to life in prison and a fine of up to $2 million.
Federal crimes tend to be much more serious than state crimes, and anyone charged with breaking federal laws when operating a pill mill may face a long jail term in federal prison. For example, according to the Sun Sentinel, in March of 2012, five individuals were sentenced to federal prison for their involvement in a pill mill fronting as a pharmacy in South Florida.
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can also revoke a pharmacy’s license to distribute controlled substances. In fact, USA Today recently reported that two Florida CVS pharmacies were at risk of losing their federal license after distributing large amounts of Oxycodone and filling prescriptions for out-of-state residents.
Getting Help from a Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyer
Because pill mills are such a serious problem in Florida, both the federal government and state law enforcement agents are often overzealous in trying to identify pill mills and prosecute those who are potentially involved. Unfortunately, you could become the victim of aggressive prosecution and face a long jail sentence or other serious consequences if you are accused of involvement with a pill mill.
It is important to contact an experienced Tampa criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible if you are under investigation or facing accusations of illegal prescription drug distribution or use.
As a former prosecutor and a board certified criminal trial lawyer, Ben Stechschulte, has the experience necessary to help you defend against accusations of pill mill involvement. Contact Stechschulte Nell today for a free consultation.