One of the men we sent in to a storefront pain clinic is a homeless man, who we will call Bill, as he didn't want his real name used. Bill goes to a clinic he had visited once before with ID and one hundred dollars cash in hand. He is seen quickly by a nurse after complaining of back pain. The nurse on staff conducts a cursory exam and a few minutes later, Bill leaves the clinic with a prescription for 120 Lorcet tablets, among other medications including Valium and Zantac.
"All I had to do was sit in the chair and, uh, that was it," said Bill. "They already had what I wanted written down."
We sent a different man into the same clinic, this time complaining of leg and back pain from a fall. Our hidden camera footage shows that also he met with a licensed vocational nurse and they struck up a lengthy conversation about night clubs while the assistant checked his email and talked on the phone. Our "patient" was never seen by a doctor, wasn't given a thorough exam but still leaves the clinic with prescriptions for 120 Lorcet tablets and 90 Soma pills. ABC News delivered these pills to authorities after he filled the prescriptions from a pharmacy recommended by the clinic.
A couple days later, with a camera crew in tow, Cuomo approached an employee at the clinic, which prescribed so easily the powerful and potentially addictive drugs to the people sent in, to get answers.
Here's an excerpt of their exchange:
Cuomo: "Well we sent people in here and they got lots and lots of pain medicine. One of them was a homeless man who just walked -- I had guys come in here and they got lots of pain medicine."
Clinic Employee: "They need to be in prison. They need to go in jail and the minute we find something like that we immediately discharge them and report them. We call the pharmacies and let them also know, so can you please give me their names?"
Cuomo: "So you are saying that you are unaware about this?"
Clinic Employee: "Oh absolutely -- of course uh uh -- you know what, this interview is over with.
Cuomo: "You know drugs don't end here, they just start here."
Later we contacted the nurse who handed out the prescriptions and he said he was just "trying to help out the patient with his pain." He added that he wanted to deal with the patients pain first before addressing an apparent high blood pressure problem and that it is the doctors name on the prescriptions, not his.
In a posting on the ABC News website, someone who said he was from the clinic the two homeless men visited vehemently denied that it improperly prescribes pain medication, saying "We here at our clinic are completely against pill mills and are working very hard to be a successful general medicine practice." The comment also noted that one of the patients was treated for high blood pressure in addition to receiving the prescriptions.
This harsh reality is one that Mari Robinson, Executive Director for the Texas Medical Board, knows all too well.
"What you have is two different types of scenarios. You've got people who are visiting these clinics to feed their own addictions." Robinson told Cuomo. "Even more insidious than that, though, are patients who don't take the medicines at all. They go, they get their prescriptions. They turn around, they sell the prescriptions to another party & and then they turn around and sell the drugs on the street. "