A raid on three South Florida pain clinics that are suspected of illegally distributing millions of prescription pills is the start of what authorities call a massive investigation of such "pill mills."
"It's a very good start to what is going to be a long process, but this is just example of what's going on," Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said. "They represent what the bad pain clinics are doing."
The raids were part of a multi-jurisdictional investigation that included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and police departments in Broward and Palm Beach counties, which earlier this week took box after box from American Pain, East Coast Pain and Executive Pain, according to authorities.
All three clinics are owned by 29-year-old twin brothers Christopher and Jeffrey George. American Pain had been in operation for five weeks prior to the raid.
The 14-month criminal investigation of all three clinics discovered that American Pain had five primary physicians working full-time last year and together administered more than 2 million of the highly addictive oxycodone pills, according to the federal court documents.
The five doctors ranked within the top-20 purchasers of oxycodone, according to DEA statistics. They were each paid anywhere from $860,000 to $1.2 million last year, according to the court documents, which also allege that the more patients the doctors saw, the more they were paid.
A meeting between Christopher George and an undercover DEA agent wearing a recording device yielded even more evidence of the alleged unethical practices of the clinic such as money laundering and illegal distribution of prescription drugs, according to the documents.
George allegedly told the informant that he had "40 million in assets that needed to be laundered," according to the documents, and that he was carrying about $50,000 in cash that "reflected one day of income from the American Pain Clinic."
The documents also allege that the clinic attracted people from states such as Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina to pay "$5.00 for a pill and take the pills back to their home state and sell them for $80.00 a pill." The patients would often be paid or "sponsored" by a "recruiter" to travel to Florida and upon return to their home state would "provide the sponsor with half of the narcotics they obtained," according to the documents.
Cops Plan To Investigate More Florida Pill-Mills
No criminal charges have been filed and a lawyer representing the George brothers, Jim Eisenberg, did not return messages left by ABCNews.com. Eisenberg told the Miami Herald in a March 4 article that his clients are innocent.
The investigation, according to authorities, is ongoing, and charges could still be filed as more evidence is gathered.
"They are running a legitimate business," he told the paper. "They are following the law."
Palm Beach County's Bradshaw disagreed.
"There are plenty of reputable pain-management clinics that people who have legitimate problems go to all the time, and we realize that," Bradshaw said. "But there are ones that are operating like the [Georges'] and are unscrupulous and are cranking out pills.
"Those are the ones that we're going after and at the end of the day, will make a significant difference in street sales and the overdose problem," he said.
Bradshaw estimated that there are between 200 and 300 "bad pain clinics" in the state that authorities hope to shut down, and that, he said, attribute to the drug overdose rates in the county.
"In Palm Beach County, every 27 hours, we handle a drug overdose," he said. "People think it's an addict with a needle in their arm but that's not the case."
About 90 percent of the overdose reports involve prescription meds, he said.
"People are traveling here from other states because they know how easy the access is," Bradshaw said.
Florida's Prescription Drug-Monitoring Program Not Operational Yet
While Florida has a state prescription drug-monitoring program, it is not yet fully operational. There are 34 states that do have these programs that are working and are able to keep track of prescriptions of controlled substances.
But until the program in Florida begins to work, Bradshaw said, they are counting on their ongoing investigations to curb the operation of some of the pain clinics.
"This is an excellent start," he said of the most recent raids. "We can't keep letting our young people die on prescription medication overdoses and have this type of system that dispenses the pills randomly without any controls."
For now, loyal customers who have not yet heard about the closure of the Georges' clinics are still arriving in droves, according to authorities who secured the perimeter of American Pain during the raids.
One man who traveled to the clinic from Kentucky told ABC News' West Palm Beach affiliate WPBF-TV that he just wanted to "get something for his back problems."
Asked why he didn't go to a doctor in his home state, the unidentified man told the reporter, "Uh, well, no comment."