Today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introduced legislation that addresses the growing public health epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The bill, The Pill Mill Crackdown Act of 2011, will double the jail time and triple the fines for "pill mill" operators who prescribe medically unnecessary drugs. It also specifies that assets seized from these drug dealers be used to support prescription drug databases which are intended to prevent the illegal dispensing of prescription medicines. The legislation also strengthens prescription standards for certain addictive pain drugs, making them more difficult to fraudulently obtain.
"At these "pill mills', getting medically unnecessary painkillers from a doctor is as easy as taking candy from a baby," said Rep. Markey. "Doctors offices should not be 'pill mills' where addicts shop for painkillers. This legislation will help curb the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse by cracking down on the healthcare providers who prescribe medically unnecessary painkillers and will support law enforcement in their efforts to identify and stop illegal activities."
"Today, we take a crucial step toward putting these pill mills out of business," said Rep. Buchanan. "Many of these so-called pain clinics are nothing more than illegal drug distribution networks that bring untold misery to our children, our families, and our communities. I appreciate the bipartisan support I've received from members across the country who recognize the severity of this epidemic."
The Boston Globe recently reported on a former doctor and nurse practitioner in Massachusetts who were charged with prescribing medically unnecessary painkillers to known drug addicts, resulting in the drug overdose deaths of six people. Throughout Massachusetts, a significant proportion of diverted opioids (painkillers) originate within the state, where pill mills are rampant.
"Congressman Markey's legislation adds an important tool to our arsenal to ensure that those predatory doctors who feed the addiction of vulnerable, weak individuals for their own personal, financial gain, are held accountable," Middlesex District Attorney Gerald Leone said. "Additionally, we know that these individuals prescribe excessive amounts of drugs to others who similarly wish to exploit addiction, which goes directly to supplying the illegal drug market of these pills."
Drafted in consultation with federal and state authorities, the legislation will allow the Drug Enforcement Agency to use the assets seized from these drug dealers to enforce drug laws and use the profits to support state databases to identify illegal activities. Last summer, Massachusetts moved to strengthen its database -- the Prescription Monitoring Program -- that provides law enforcement with critical data to curb prescription drug abuse and prevent "doctor shopping." At least 9,000 Massachusetts residents are estimated to engage in the practice of "doctor shopping," a practice that occurs when a patient requests treatment or prescriptions from multiple healthcare providers without disclosing that information to their doctor or coordinating that care.
"Emergency departments are the front lines of emerging public health crises like the prescription drug abuse epidemic," said Jason Tracy, MD, Site Chief of Emergency Medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance's Whidden Hospital campus. "Congressman Markey's bill offers important steps to identify and combat this abuse, improving the safety and well-being of people across the country."
Specifically, the bill would:
* Toughen federal penalties for pill mill operators by doubling the prison sentence from 10 to 20 years and tripling the fine from $1 million to $3 million.
* Stipulate assets seized from violators to be sold and the proceeds used: to fund drug monitoring databases in the states; to fund DEA enforcement actions against Pill Mills; and, to support drug treatment programs within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
* Reclassify hydrocodone combination drugs (one of the most addictive and dangerous drug mixtures) to make them a Schedule II drug that is more difficult to prescribe and obtain.