Today agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and local police swept across south Florida arresting individuals suspected of illegally prescribing painkillers and other prescription drugs to patients who often have nothing wrong with them.
The arrests were part of a yearlong probe that centered on Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and involved undercover agents purchasing prescription drugs. Authorities say there are hundreds of pain clinics throughout the region that are involved in the illegal activity. The clinics are also known as "pill mills" because people come there to get prescriptions, often with no questions being asked.
"Thousands of people from all over the Eastern Seaboard are coming to South Florida to illegally buy prescription drugs," said DEA agent, Anthony Angeli. "People will come in vans, eight or ten people at a time. They get the scripts, and they go back."
Angeli said when they return home, the pills usually end up on the black market.
South Florida is ground zero in the nation's war against prescription drug abuse. State officials recently said that 85 percent of all oxycodone pills sold in the U.S. come from Florida and the top 50 medical prescribers of such drugs are located in the state.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20,000 people a year are dying from prescription drug overdose, including seven a day in Florida. Over the last decade the number of such deaths has more than tripled.
Dr. Carlos Gonzales was one of the targets in the DEA's raids this morning. He is anything but a common criminal. In the black market business of prescription drugs the criminals are not street level drug dealers, but rather doctors who often live in beautiful homes. Gonzales lives in a multi-million dollar house and has a Mercedes, a Land Rover, a Bentley and a Lamborghini parked in the driveway.
Today, Gonzales was arrested, his medical license was suspended and his most expensive cars were seized. The DEA estimated Gonzales was making between $13,000 and $20,000 a week writing thousands of prescriptions.
Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has recently come under fire for his decision to scrap a planned state database for tracking prescription drugs. Despite receiving pressure from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, Scott refused to back down, saying the database is a waste of money and invasion of privacy. The database's supporters argue that not having it has "serious ramifications" for drug abuse across the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.