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The destruction caused by the Opioid crisis spreads far and wide in the US. There are many massive contributors to the damage, most notably Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical entities. However, corporate entities are not the only contributors to the Opioid epidemic; individual parties have played a significant role in distributing powerful Opioids throughout the country. A recent CNN documentary, “American Pain,” details how twin brothers Chris and Jeff George, among others, ran one of the most prominent “pill mills” in US history, linked to thousands of deaths, according to the FBI.
The brothers opened 4 pain clinics in South Florida and teamed up with doctors and pharmaceutical companies to pump prescription Opioids into the country. Opening their first pain clinic in 2007, the George brothers called themselves the “Disneyland of pain clinics,” trafficking over $500 million in pain pills.
Many patients were locals, but some traveled from other states to receive legal, albeit lax, prescriptions from the brothers’ clinics. The licensed medical doctors who worked at these pain clinics were hired through Craigslist ads and were willing to write hundreds, if not thousands, of prescriptions. When patients couldn’t prove a legitimate injury or condition that warranted Opioid medication, the doctors at the pain clinics often referred patients to an MRI imaging service that operated from a semi-truck parked in the back of a strip club. Since all the doctors hired for the clinics were licensed, and the prescriptions and MRIs were legal, albeit untraditional in their operation location, the George brothers could operate legal clinics for massive financial gain.
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Why did the George brothers want to open and run pain management clinics without medical backgrounds? Why were so many pharmaceutical companies willing to keep the clinic shelves stocked with such powerfully addictive substances? The short answer: financial gain. The brothers’ operation netted over $40 million in profits.
Up until 2005, Purdue Pharma controlled most, if not all, of the Oxycodone market; however, once the company lost its patent, companies were able to make a cheaper version of OxyContin. The George brothers quickly took advantage of this opportunity and the vulnerable individuals who had become addicted to OxyContin. Many individuals already needed OxyContin, and now they could receive copious amounts of the generic version from the brothers’ various clinics without law enforcement detection. The brothers weren’t the only ones making money.
The brothers offered their doctors incentives for writing large and frequent prescriptions, and pharmaceutical companies were happy to provide massive amounts of pain pills. In a single year, one of the pain clinics bought 3 million Opioid pills. Patients could also make out with a little bit of cash, as many left the clinics with copious amounts of pain pills that they could then resell at a higher price on the streets. So, not only were patients being overprescribed Opioids, but there was also a tidal wave of Opioids flooding the streets from these clinics.
The George brothers advertised their clinics in the newspaper, but word of mouth spread quickly. The clinics only accepted cash or credit for traceless transactions to ensure they didn’t signal any red flags to law enforcement. They also didn’t take insurance, according to court documents. The clinics also had bouncers at the front door that warned patients not to snort their pills in the parking lot to avoid “bad” attention. The twin brothers were only concerned about two things: keeping a low profile and becoming millionaires off of vulnerable individuals.
It’s nearly impossible to fully capture how invasive and deadly the Opioid epidemic has been and still is in the US. Opioids like prescription Morphine, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and illegal drugs like Heroin and Fentanyl, are highly addictive. Illicit Fentanyl is not only highly addictive, but it is also 100 times more potent than Morphine. In fact, out of the 108,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, Fentanyl and other Synthetic Opioids made up two-thirds of those deaths.
Overdose deaths have been rising for years in the US, but they surged amid the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the physical and mental health conditions that could have contributed to increased drug overdose deaths included depression, anxiety, job loss, stress, financial instability, and isolation. With the highly addictive nature of these prescription Opioids combined with pharmaceutical companies overproducing pain pills and doctors overprescribing patients, many communities nationwide are trying to pick up the pieces and help individuals who are now addicted to Opioids.
The legal facade of the pain clinics (e.g., licensed doctors, legal prescriptions) protected the brothers, pharmaceutical companies, and doctors from any legal trouble initially, but these protections didn’t last. During their investigation, law enforcement ultimately arrested the brothers and some of their medical staff, nicknamed Operation Oxy Alley, after Oxycodone from the twin brothers’ clinics showed up at scenes involving drug overdoses. Chris George was released after serving 11 years behind bars, and Jeff George remains imprisoned. Although the brothers have served or are still serving time for what they did, countless lives were lost in connection to the clinics run by the brothers. Pharmaceutical companies involved with the George brothers have yet to be held criminally liable for their participation.
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As the country reels from the impact of the Opioid crisis, many people question how individuals and companies can fully take accountability when they have made billions and thousands of lives have been lost. The hope is that as Opioid settlements are made with massive pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies like Walmart, CVS Health, and Johnson & Johnson, communities affected by the Opioid crisis can use the payment to fund treatment programs for those suffering from Opioid use addiction. While former kingpins Jeff and Chris George are off the streets, there is still a long way to go for all the families impacted by their business. However, there are various treatment options available for Opioid use disorder. For those with a physical dependence on Opioids, inpatient rehab with a detox plan is likely the safest and most effective plan. Call a treatment provider for free to learn more about rehab and detox options.
For those who have already completed treatment, an aftercare plan can help individuals avoid relapse. This plan may contain medication, support groups, and ongoing therapy. Many individuals choose online therapy so they can receive professional help from the comfort of their own home.
Carmen McCrackin earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Auburn and has over 4 years of professional writing experience. Her passion for writing and educating others led her to a career in journalism with a focus on mental health and social justice topics. Her main mission is to be a platform for all voices and stories, and to provide tangible resources to those seeking recovery for themselves or loved ones.