FDLE releases year-long pill mill crackdown results

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ORLANDO, Fla.,None - The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has released the results of a year-long crackdown on the state's pill mill problem.

Investigators have had a good year cracking down on the pain pill problem. There has been 600 arrests statewide and some half million pills off the street.

But authorities know it's not enough, because pill distributors will keep on finding other ways. Some appear to be moving toward trying to open their own pharmacies.

In 2009, there were nine applications for new pharmacies in Florida. This past year, there were 35. Despite the rise in applications, the number of licenses granted by the state has not jumped.

And health officials are now looking to interview all potential applicants to make sure they plan on running a legitimate business. But so goes the repercussions from any crackdown.

Law enforcement knows dealers will take to the streets before shutting down. It's part of the reason why 147 people died last year from prescription pill deaths.

Investigators said while there has been an increase in the number of people applying to open pharmacies, that number appears to have leveled off.

Meanwhile, investigations into open pharmacies and pain clinics take a long time due to HIPAA. It took almost eight months between the time a pain clinic on Orange Avenue was closed before investigators charged anyone with a crime.

When the pain clinic was raided last June, investigators said it, and two other sister operations in the city, were among the biggest prescription pill distribution sites in the entire state.

"More pills were coming out of those three clinics than the entire state of California combined," said Danny Banks with FDLE.

Still, after closing, investigators said the owners opened a new clinic in Hawaii. And it wasn't until last week, nearly eight months later, that FDLE finally charged the operators with racketeering and money laundering.

And that's because investigators had to spend months combing through medical records to build their case.

"Sometimes it means it takes time because you don't want to lose prosecution because we're inadvertently violating federal HIPAA law," said Dave Aronberg with the
Attorney General's Office.

But there's also a loophole in the law, and pill distributors know it. FDLE said some pain clinics are now operating as drug detox centers, but are still doling out pills, and while statutes allow the Department of Health to immediately close down a pain clinic, going after a drug detox center is a lot harder.

FDLE said the statewide task force has worked because it partners with local law enforcement, and that meant they could make sure when a pill mill closed in one area. It didn't open up in another part of the state.