Pain Clinics: Do Some Prescribe Legal Drugs Illegally?

PHOTO Chris Cuomo and others went undercover to visit several medical clinics in the Houston area during an investigation.

Esther and Ken Scarborough live in a quiet town outside of Houston, Texas. It's a place that brings bittersweet memories for these parents who have suffered the ultimate loss because of easily obtained prescription drugs.

"He was just the joy of my life", Esther said. "He was the kind of kid that if you went to the mall even as a teenager, he would hold your hand [and] not worry about what anyone said about it."

They remember their only son, Chris, as a loving young man with a great sense of humor.

"You know--- he's not only your firstborn, but he's your son," Ken said. "He's your namesake. He was the one that my name was going to live through---[he] was very special."

A special person with a prescription drug problem, and one whom the Scarboroughs claim was taken advantage of by doctors.

"I cannot fathom how someone with that training and that education can stand there and ignore the fact that people are dying. And it increases every year", said Esther. "People are dying from what they're doing. And they have no conscience about it at all."

Their son Chris died in his own bed at the age of 25, back in September 2007, after an accidental overdose of pain pills. His parents claim he obtained the pills after a visit to a "pill mill" -- storefronts that often provide powerful narcotics without thorough patient exams and usually on a cash-only basis.

"My son's life was worth nothing but whatever the cost of this quote - unquote, "office visit," to walk in this pill mill, is -- that's all my son's life was worth," said Ken. "That's it. That's all---and I'm a little angry about that. And -- and I know I'm not the only one. My wife and I are -- by far, we're not the only two people, you know, going through this."

Despite a law passed in September aimed at fighting "pill mills", over 150 are still in existence, giving out prescriptions for millions of controlled drugs each year in the Houston area alone, according to the Texas Medical Board. The going rate on the street for pain medications like hydrocodone, a powerful pain reliever, and soma, a muscle relaxer, is around $4 a pill.

ABC News wanted to find out how easy it was to obtain these potent prescription drugs, so Chris Cuomo and others went undercover to visit several medical clinics in the Houston area. For Cuomo, all it took was cash, complaints of back, knee and neck pain and a few forms to fill out and he was seen by a physician's assistant at a rundown clinic. Within minutes, Cuomo was prescribed Lorcet, another form of the pain reliever, hydrocodone.

Four of the five people that went into various pain clinics in connection with the ABC investigation were able to obtain prescriptions for hundreds of hydrocodone and Soma pills. When mixed with an anti anxiety medication called Xanax, this combination of powerful drugs is often referred to as "the Houston cocktail;" however, you won't find this served at any local bar. This potent mix of hydrocodone, the muscle relaxer soma and Xanax can give the user a heroin-like euphoria without needle marks and it's also one of the most popular recreational drug combinations in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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