Bipartisan legislation seeks to put 'pill mills' out of business

A parent’s worst nightmare is having to bury a child.  That nightmare is becoming a tragic reality for far too many families across the United States. On average, seven people die from prescription drug abuse every day in Florida. In Massachusetts, the number of painkiller-related deaths increased 600 percent over the last 20 years. More than fifty million Americans have admitted to misusing prescription opiates, or powerful narcotic painkillers like codeine and oxycodone.

Garrett’s story has painful echoes in every state and across every socio-economic strata of society. That’s why we have joined together to introduce bipartisan legislation aimed at combating a major driver in the prescription drug abuse epidemic: pill mills.

These so-called pain management clinics, or “pill mills”, do nothing more than house drug dealers passing themselves off as legitimate healthcare providers who hand out prescription drugs as if they are candy. They have turned states like Florida into the nation’s warehouse for narcotics, flooding the rest of the country with easily available and addictive narcotics. Today, Florida has more pain clinics than McDonald’s restaurants.

Our legislation takes steps to end this pill mill plague and make our communities safer again. Known as the “Pill Mill Crackdown Act of 2011,” the bill: 

· Toughens federal penalties for pill mill operators by doubling the prison sentence for offenders from 10 to 20 years and tripling the fine from $1 million to $3 million.

· Uses assets seized from drug violators to fund state drug monitoring databases, enforce actions against pill mills, and support drug treatment programs. Thirty-four states, including Massachusetts and Florida operate drug databases that help law enforcement track these narcotics and identify abusive practices and trends.

· Reclassifies hydrocodone combination drugs (some of the most addictive and dangerous drug mixtures) to make them more difficult to prescribe and obtain.

The cost of the prescription drug epidemic is enormous. Higher emergency room costs. Lower employee productivity. The high cost of drug addiction treatment itself. The $15,000 - $20,000 in costs to treat addicted babies in neonatal intensive care. The $1.4 million in lifetime costs that addicts incur. Rising health insurance premiums to pay for uncompensated care. The burden on taxpayers and society is staggering.

Everyone stands to benefit from the legislation we have introduced. Leaders in law enforcement and the medical community have praised the Pill Mill Crackdown Act as a vital part of the ongoing battle against prescription drug abuse. Massachusetts’s Middlesex District Attorney Gerald Leone said that the bill “adds an important tool to law enforcement’s arsenal as we work to ensure that predatory doctors who feed on the addiction of vulnerable individuals are held accountable.” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a relentless advocate in the fight against illegal pill mills, called the bill a “necessary tool to aggressively combat the prescription-drug epidemic. I urge Congress to pass these much-needed reforms."

Doctors earn a license to prescribe medicines, not push drugs. We call on all members of Congress to work with us to shut down these pill mills and help stop the pain they bring to countless families across the country.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.