WSVN — At the height of the pill mill crisis in Florida, prescription painkillers were sold in shocking numbers. But did the crackdown on criminals also leave legitimate patients to suffer? Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case tonight with this "Prescription for Trouble." 

Shari, who asked we just use her first name, has had seven surgeries on her spine.  

Shari: "I have nothing but hardware. I don’t have a spine. They put a rod in there, a metal made out of titanium, and it goes up into the back of my neck, which helps me support my neck so I can hold my head up."

The 59-year-old says the level of pain she feels is difficult to describe.  

Shari: "The pain, the agony, it consumes my life. It takes over."
Shari takes the powerful prescription drugs morphine and oxycodone, but since moving to South Florida more than a year ago, she’s had big problems getting her prescriptions filled.  

Shari: "My first month I couldn’t get my medicine, and I was going to 20 and 30 pharmacies a day, crying, begging, pleading, couldn’t get it done."
And Shari is far from alone. Many patients describe a pharmacy crawl where their prescriptions are repeatedly rejected. 

Patient 1: "I don’t understand how a pharmacy can choose and pick who they give meds to."

Patients voiced their frustrations at a Florida Board of Pharmacy meeting. 

Patient 2: "You can’t put us all in a barrel and treat us like we’re criminals. We are not. We are legitimate pain patients with legitimate problems."  

Patient 3: "This is ridiculous, what’s going on here. I mean I am terrified, something needs to change."  

Pharmacist Kim Jones has heard similar stories. 

Kim Jones: "And, yes, they’re crying. They can’t get their prescriptions filled anywhere. Nobody has them. Nobody has enough." 

7News was the first to expose the South Florida pill mill explosion in 2008. Pills flowed freely to those who abused or sold them, and big money was made on the backs of addicts. The state created a program to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances. Federal officials, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, put people in prison, and pharmacies paid millions in fines. 

Kim Jones: "I have heard of a lot of pharmacists who are in fear of the DEA. Personally, I am not."

The DEA says health care professionals doing things the right way should have nothing to fear.

Susan Langston: "Pharmacists do not need to fear the DEA when they’re filling legitimate prescriptions."

Susan Langston is the head of the DEA’s Diversion Program in Miami. She says the agency has been inundated with heartbreaking stories including surgery, cancer, even hospice patients who can’t get their medications. Langston says patients need to be treated on an individual basis. 

Susan Langston: "Sometimes checklists are used that eliminate very legitimate patients from getting their prescriptions, but when you look at a checklist, and you use your common sense, prescriptions should be filled."

Finding a balance between policing potential dealers and providing help for people in pain is no easy matter, and for those in need, every day without their medicine can be a day of suffering.

Shari: "I’ve got a lot to face if God leaves me here on this earth, but I would like to live it comfortably, and this is what the medicine does for me. It doesn’t give me a high. I don’t get a buzz. If I don’t have it, I don’t have a life."

The Board of Pharmacy will meet again on this issue on Sept. 21 in Tallahassee. The meeting is open to the public.


Florida Board of Pharmacy 
Controlled Substances Standards Subcommittee:


Miami-Dade: 305-627-CLUE
Broward: 954-921-CLUE
You can also send a tweet to @carmelonthecase

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