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22 arrested in Florida as part of 'pill mill' crackdown

By Carol Cratty, CNN
updated 5:49 PM EDT, Fri October 28, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five doctors and two pharmacists are among those arrested
  • Federal officials want to shut down clinics distributing prescription drugs illegally
  • DEA administrator calls Florida "an epicenter for rogue pain clinics"

Washington (CNN) -- Law enforcement officers arrested 22 people Friday in Orlando and Tampa, Florida, as part of an effort to shut down so-called pill mills distributing illegal prescription drugs.

Those arrested include five doctors and two pharmacists, federal officials said.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the latest busts send "a clear message that in Florida, which has long been an epicenter for the illegal use and distribution of prescription drugs, the days of easily acquiring these drugs from corrupt doctors and pharmacists are numbered."

The arrests were made as part of Operation Pill Nation II. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Michele Leonhart said the operation is part of a strategy to end "Florida's role as an epicenter for rogue pain clinics in the United States."

In addition to Friday's arrests, federal and local law enforcement officers also executed six search warrants in the Tampa area and served orders to a doctor and a pharmacy, immediately revoking their authority to dispense or prescribe controlled substances such as pain medication, according to U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill. Forty-nine other arrests were made earlier in the operation.

Asked whether the crackdown could hamper the ability of people with legitimate needs for pain medicine to get it, Leonhart said, "a legitimate patient going to a legitimate doctor has no problem."

Leonhart noted the ease of distinguishing real caregivers from pill mills, which run a "cash and carry" business and do not examine patients before prescribing drugs.

Operation Pill Nation I began in South Florida in February. Forty-seven people have been arrested so far in the region, including 17 doctors and five clinic owners, according to federal officials. Seventy doctors and six pharmacies there have lost their ability to dispense controlled substances. In addition, more than $18.9 million in cash and other assets have been seized.

Friday's arrests come as the DEA prepares to hold its third Prescription Drug Take Back on Saturday as part of its nationwide efforts to stop the abuse of prescription drugs. Five thousand DEA collection sites will be sprinkled around the country where people can dispose of drugs that may have expired or are unwanted. The DEA said two earlier collection drives brought in more than 309 tons of drugs.

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