No More Pill Mills?
The morning of May 20th started just like any other for unscrupulous doctors in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. They woke up on their piles of blood money, got into their insanely expensive cars, and drove to work at “clinics” and “offices.”
Once at work, they sat back on their alligator skin chairs, drank coffee from solid gold mugs, and dreamt up new ways to overprescribe opioids. Then the DEA came a-knocking.
Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic and over the top, but it’s closer to reality than many realize. Since the early 2000’s many doctors have been prescribing opioids and benzo’s for one reason and one reason only – to make money.
They’re handing out pills like candy and getting paid… while also ruining lives and causing a nationwide painkiller epidemic. Over time, thanks to stricter regulations and prescription monitoring services, the painkiller epidemic morphed to the heroin epidemic.
Well, the DEA has finally had enough. On May 20th, over 1,000 agents raided offices and pharmacies across Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This raid was the culmination of a fifteen month long campaign called “Operation Pilluted.”
Pilluted is the single biggest pharmaceutical operation the DEA has ever conducted and, so far, has resulted in close to 300 arrests.
It’s also had vigorous backing and support from the states involved. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a former dermatologist, had the following to say,
“When they [doctors] choose to overprescribe narcotics to patients, and they know that these patients may be or are abusing them, then they change from being a physician to really being a drug dealer” (NBC News).
Details on Operation Pilluted
The largest prescription painkiller bust in DEA history was juts conducted…now what? Well, before looking to the future, let’s look at what exactly this operation entailed.
Operation Pilluted was the umbrella name of the DEA’s recent efforts to dismantle the supply and illegal distribution of opioids and benzodiazepines. For those who are unaware, opioids are drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, etc.), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine, and Fentanyl. Benzo’s are drugs like alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
The DEA was only interested in those supplying the pills. They chose to focus their efforts on doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals. They didn’t target those addicted to these drugs and, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t arrest any users for possession.
Overall, forty-eight people were arrested on May 20th alone. Twenty-two were from Louisiana, nine from Alabama, nine from Arkansas, and eight from Mississippi.
The crooked doctors and pharmacies that survived “P Day” without jail time weren’t left completely alone. Over thirty-five medical practitioners were forced to give up their DEA registration numbers, which means they can no longer prescribe controlled medication.
Despite the large number of arrestees coming from Louisiana, Arkansas has historically been the epicenter of painkiller abuse. In fact, since 2014, over half of all DEA prescription drug arrests have occurred in Arkansas.
Christopher Thyer, a Federal Prosecutor from Arkansas, stated that 146 million hydrocodone pills are distributed in his state each year. He went on to state that this is enough hydrocodone to give forty-two pills to each man, woman, and child in Arkansas (NBC News).
That’s simply unacceptable. What makes matters even worse is how some of these “doctors” operate. DEA agents confiscated four loaded guns and a money counter from one Arkansas doctor’s office. Among those arrested was one man who, according to agents, was tasked with recruiting homeless individuals to file unneeded prescriptions.
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The Future of Painkiller Abuse in America
It’s safe to say Operation Pilluted shook up the landscape of painkiller abuse. The DEA picked a smart tactic – focus on the supply and arrest only those involved in prescribing and distributing opioids and benzo’s.
Still, the question lingers, what now? Will this end the painkiller epidemic? What about the heroin epidemic? What about more and more young people overdosing? How can we stop all that?
Unfortunately, substance abuse in America isn’t going to be solved by operations, crackdowns, or arrests. Substance abuse in America isn’t going to go away until we address the demand portion of drug use. That is to say the problem isn’t going to get better until we increase access to drug treatment.
No one wants to grow up to be an addict. The sad fact is that many do. Men and women become addicted for a million and one reasons. One of these is doctors overprescribing painkillers. There are still a million other reasons though.
So, while I applaud the DEA for the scope of their operation, I say that we need more! We need more treatment centers, better access to treatment centers, and better clinical care.
Once those are in place, the supply will dwindle on its own. It’s that simple.