Florida pain clinics – Too much or too little regulation?

Need a fix? Why not join the thousands of others who are heading to Florida to get legal doses of pain pills? Well, the state legislature is hoping to make that more difficult. More info on how laws are toughening up on Florida pain clinics.

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Florida’s got a new type of tourist: the pill popping day tripper. In fact, Florida seems to be the Marakesh of our time, with easier access than ever to pain numbing medication – for legitimate or illegitimate use. But what is the current state of affairs? And how is the state government reacting to this new problem?

In the past few years, pain clinics in Florida have burst on to the scene. In 2008, Broward County was leading the pack with one new pain clinic opening each week. Likewise, the top 25 physicians prescribing oxycontin the United States were also located in Broward County.  I spoke this week with Sue Jahn, owner of halfway house Sober Living in Delray Beach, FL who says, “It seemed like every time there was an empty store front in a strip mall, a new pain clinic would pop up. They were everywhere.”

Although some pain clinics in Florida legitimately serve the needs of patients in chronic pain, many were making fast bucks and peddling analgesics like candy to babies.  But “pill mills” can be used legitimately for people with mobility issues. Patients using pain medications properly claim that the process of seeing a doctor, getting a prescription and filling them at pharmacies is difficult. Instead, people in chronic pain prefer doctors who provide controlled substances out of an office for convenience. But cutting out the pharmacies opens up the trade for misuse and abuse.

To respond to the fast paced explosion of drug tourism, Florida’s state government has made some hasty changes to its laws. Although the standards of practice for physicians practicing in pain management are still in draft, Rule 64B8-9.0131 is constantly be updated. So while the pain clinic bill is getting passed from the House to the Senate, what are lawmakers discussing? At the moment, he folks in Tallahassee have drafted, proposed and even passed some of the the following into law:

1. Registration
As of January 4, 2010 Pain clinics must register their practices with Florida’s Board of Medicine.

2. Inspection
The Department of Health must inspect clinics and review patient records at least once a year. Inspections include medical histories of drug or alcohol abuse, treatment plans and the effect of physical pain on psychological and physical function)

3. Dispensing
Only licensed physicians or pharmacists can dispense pain management medications on the premises of pain clinics. Additionally, Pain clinic patients who pay with cash, checks or credit cards (not via insurance, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid) cannot obtain more than a three-day supply of pain medications.

4. No advertising
Pain clinics cannot advertise or promote the use and sale of controlled substances.

5. Ownership
Pain clinics cannot be owned by former felons. Additionally, pain clinics can only be owned and operated by medical physicians with a clear and active license to practice medicine in Florida.
What do you think? Is government response meeting public need, or making the lives of legitimate patients more difficult? Will government law always favor the buddies and/or interests of government officials? What other ideas might lawmakers consider?  How can Florida make it less easy to board a plane, drop in to the sunny south for the afternoon and leave with a bag full of legal drugs to either use or distribute at home?

Also, FYI search for Florida State Medical Licensees here.

Reference sources:

HB 373 Pain Management Clinics
Sections 458.309(4)-(6)
section 459.005(3)-(5)

Florida Administrative Code Chapter 6488-9
Florida Administrative CodeChapter 65815-14
Florida Administrative Code Chapter 648-4

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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