Pain Clinics in America: The Danger of Pill Mills

by AddictionCenter |

An Overview of Pain Clinics

Once used by people who were in genuine need of help, pain clinics are increasingly becoming an alarming standard for drug dealers and addicts alike.

A pain clinic is a medical facility that aims to diagnose ongoing conditions and provide painkillers for people with chronic pain. The staff at pain clinics may include psychologists, physical therapists and alternative therapy providers to offer pain management that does not include drugs. However, the most common function of pain clinics is the disbursement of tried-and-true painkillers; popular prescriptions include potent opioids such as OxyContin, Norco and Vicodin.

There are currently 4,827 pain management specialists nationwide, according to the U.S News and World Report. A general practitioner may refer their patients to a pain clinic for ongoing maintenance of persistent pain. Some conditions requiring pain management include back pain, arthritis, cancer, carpal tunnel syndrome and shingles.

Pain Clinics and American Opioid Dependence

Pain clinics face ethical dilemmas on a near daily basis, as they house and distribute some of the most addictive and potentially destructive substances available in this country. Tightening regulations on these powerful narcotics could keep them out of the hands of the people who need them most; conversely, maintaining a lax approach may ensure they end up in the hands of people who will abuse and illegally distribute them, contributing to the nationwide opioid dependence crisis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, enough opioid pain relievers were sold in 2010 to medicate every adult American with a typical (5 milligram) dose every four hours for one month. This type of widespread access has been the catalyst for many new addictions to take root.

Research suggests that up to 7 percent of people who are prescribed opiate or analgesic painkillers will become addicted. This doesn’t take into account the amount of people who obtain painkillers through illicit means. Additional studies suggest up to 4.7 million Americans are currently dependent on painkillers.

Due to the ever-present need for pain management and generally loose regulating standards, pain clinics can create a perfect storm of misuse and abuse. As the practices can generate profits of millions of dollars, corrupt businessmen and unscrupulous doctors have been exploiting the needs of hurting citizens for years.

The pain clinics that operate solely to dole out prescriptions in order to turn a profit are known colloquially as pill mills.

There are a few telltale signs of a pill mill in your community, according to Kentucky law enforcement:

  • Only treating pain with pills
  • Patients come in and out of the doctor’s office quickly
  • Cash is the only payment accepted; no insurance is taken
  • No physical exams are given
  • Neighboring businesses are wary of clientele

Just because a pain clinic is backed by a doctor doesn’t mean it is a legitimate operation. Many pill mills have been shut down by authorities who were able to see through their dim facade.

In 2012, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) led a sting operation to identify and shut down illegitimate clinics in the South Florida region. DEA agents working “Operation Pill Nation” arrested 22 people and seized over $2.2 million in cash and 70 vehicles. The operation was successful thanks to 340 undercover buys of prescription drugs from over 60 doctors in more than 40 “pill mills.”

Although South Florida is notorious for its saturation of pill mills, it is not the only part of the country plagued by this form of greed. Pill mills spring up nationwide, unfortunately contributing to the growing painkiller addiction problem facing our country.

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