Pill Mills: Is Your Doctor A Drug Dealer?


When we're unwell, we generally visit a doctor because we trust doctor’s will provide us with the care we need; believing that our health and safety are top priorities. If this is the case, why has a Florida based physician been charged with first-degree murder?

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In the summer of 2011, a man overdosed hours after he was prescribed 210 pain pills from a licensed 'physician.' Well, at least they referred to themselves as physicians. There were 33 arrests associated with this 'pill mill' network.

Although this was highly tragic, it's an unfortunate reality. This was not a singular occurrence, which is why pill mills are continually catching the attention of law enforcement.

The Hippocratic Oath

These physicians not only broke the law, they broke an oath. The original Hippocratic Oath was written approximately 2500 years ago. This oath was implemented in 1508 so that physicians and other healthcare professionals would swear to practice medicine honestly.

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Although modern day physicians do not necessarily take this original oath, majority do take an oath when graduating from medical school. This ensures that practicing physicians will uphold their moral and ethical responsibilities. This is something that we expect from our modern physicians, trusting that their suggestions are in our best interest.

These modern pill mill physicians are not only directly harming their 'patients,' but those around them. These pill mills are creating a rippled effect, harming everyone involved. In order to increase profits, lives are being destroyed. Medications are being distributed like candy, while families and marriages are ripped apart. Children are being exposed to addiction at the hands of the physicians we're meant to trust.

What is a Pill Mill?


Pain-management clinics and certain smaller health care facilities have the ability and licensing to dispense prescription medications on premises. They employ physicians who are able to write prescriptions for narcotic and highly abused medications.

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Some will sell pain pills to individuals who do not have a medical need for them. They have been known to also prescribe medications in excessive amounts, putting users at risk for addiction and even overdose.

Law enforcers who are cracking down on these types of practices have come to term these clinics as “pill mills”. A pill mill is a clinic or health facility that dispenses prescription narcotics in an unethical and irresponsible manner.

Are you being affected by these Pill Mills?

Many Americans seek out pain medication for a legitimate reason; they're in pain. Opiate addiction can occur accidentally and these pill mills frequently take advantage of their patients need for relief. A California study reported that 62% of painkiller prescriptions came from 3% of doctors in 2011.

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These irresponsible 'doctors' are creating greater problems than drug pushers on the street. The problem is, they're trusted. If an individual experiences a workplace accident, they may be in extreme, constant pain.

If they began receiving treatment at one of these clinics, they run the risk of exposure to greed and unethical practices. The truth is, someone who is experiencing high levels of pain will trust what the doctor says. In some cases, these doctors are inflicting more harm than good.

There are multiple reasons why someone may seek out prescription pain pills including:


  • Accidents that resulted in long-term pain. For example, car and workplace accidents.
  • Dealing with post-surgery pain.
  • Pain related to chronic illness (e.g. cancer)
  • Recreational use, experiencing a pleasurable effect. This may unintentionally turn into a full blown addiction. This is a classic example where an individual will not have a medical need, yet is being prescribed pain pills.
  • Distancing oneself from emotional pain. For instance, numbing oneself after the loss of a loved one.
  • Falls that created chronic or constant pain.

I didn't mean to get addicted...

No one begins taking prescription pain pills with the intent to become addicted. Unfortunately, a tolerance develops quickly after extended use. This tolerance causes users to take or “need” more and more of the drug in order to achieve the same effect as before.

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Once this extensive use is in full swing, dependence is likely to follow. Becoming physically and psychologically dependent is overwhelming for many. When attempting to stop, these dependent people begin to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Before they know it, they've fallen victim to addiction. These pill mills use this to their advantage, praying on those that need help the most. They are concerned with making money, while ignoring the needs of those they're supposed to help.​​

Signs that your doctor may be over-prescribing pain medication


  • No physical exam was given or required. This is alarming, as your doctor should be assessing your physical state before administering powerful medications.
  • They only accept cash as a payment method.
  • Pain is only treated with pills, they do not provide any other options or suggestions. This will due to their attraction to money instead of patients well-being.
  • Meeting with multiple patients in the parking lot. This will be more noticeable than a doctor having a casual chat with a group of people.
  • Excessive traffic coming in and out of your doctor's office. Patients may be able to walk in and out quickly, simply buying more pills.
  • You may see patients walk in and out within a matter of minutes. You may have overheard pharmacists or residents discuss your doctor's current practices in a negative manner.
  • Although this will be harder to catch, doctor's will generally deposit large cash amounts. If you live in a small town, perhaps you have seen someone from the office at your local bank.
  • Neighboring business owners may be complaining about the clientele that has been hanging around the office.

Of course there are many doctors who care about their patients and do not fall into this pill mill category. However, this booming prescription business has created many victims across the country. Florida particularly has a history of these operations.

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Within the first six months of 2012, there were 1,054 fatal overdoses in Florida due to prescription drugs. This number has began to decline as law enforcement continues to crack down on pill mills. Although there's been a decrease in fatalities, prescription drugs still cause more deaths than illegal substances.

If you believe that you're suffering from an addiction, be conscious of certain signs. As mentioned, many doctors are running legitimate clinics. With that being said, there are still pill mills that are taking advantage of people's pain and lack of knowledge.

​Not all of these signs instantly mean that your doctor is running a pill mill. For example, some small offices may only accept cash at that moment in time. This will not mean that they're running a pill mill. Look for multiple signs, focusing on the clientele and the doctor's behavior.

What to do if you've developed an opiate dependency


The following are signs to look out for. If you are answering 'yes' to any of the examples below, please contact a professional detox center. They will help you eliminate the opiates from your body without you experiencing any dangerous or unpleasant physical symptoms.

  • Have you been taking higher doses than prescribed? Have you been taking your doses early or administering extra doses? If you're unsure what the average prescribed amount of your medication is, contact an office or two outside of your regular clinic.
  • Have you taken medication in a way that is not intended? For example, chewing the pill to experience a faster effect? Have you injected or snorted your medication?
  • Have you asked friends and family for medication because you ran out too early?
  • Have you shopped around, gaining multiple prescriptions from numerous doctors? If your doctor is running a pill mill, you may be prescribed a large quantity. If you're struggling with opiates, speak to a close friend or family member. Ask them to help you investigate what a standard prescription may be? Many are unaware that the quantity they're given is outside of the ethical range.
  • Do you look forward to taking your next dose?
  • Do you become impaired to the point that you cannot function normally? Has anyone in your family spoken to you about this issue before?
  • Have you taken your medication to balance out mood swings, anxiety, or sleeping issues?
  • Do you obsess over your medication? Do you worry about running out?
  • Have you withdrawn from friends, family, and social activities? You may not want people to notice your changes in behavior. If you have not noticed any changes, have your loved one's mentioned anything to you?

As mentioned above, many users become addicted unintentionally. You or your loved one may not even notice that there's a problem. There's a common misconception that prescription pills are not harmful because they're legal and prescribed by a doctor.

In the case of pill mills, doctor's are not regulating prescriptions as they should. So, your doctor may be able to legally write you a prescription, but they're prescribing medication in an unethical and harmful way.

If you believe you or a loved one are suffering from an opiate addiction, there are clear signs to look for. Any of these signs, whether intentional or not, may indicate you or someone you care about needs help. Opiate detox requires medically supervised treatments so that you are safe and comfortable.

If this describes you or your loved one, please contact a professional drug treatment center. They will be able to assist you with your questions and concerns. It is not recommended that you abruptly stop taking drugs without medical supervision.

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If you believe that your doctor's office is running a pill mill, it's important that you address this issue. Speak to your local law enforcement about your concerns. However, do not accuse anyone based on a hunch.

Law enforcement can look into your concerns, and will handle the situation accordingly. If you're struggling with a prescription drug addiction, you need to focus on recovering. If there are underlining pain conditions, they will be addressed by professionals in a detox or rehabilitation facility.

Rehab centers can target your withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to feel safe, comfortable, and hopeful for the future. You can overcome your addiction, long-term sobriety is attainable. Call for help today. You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

About the Author:

Kara Crow is a substance abuse treatment consultant. She joined The Recovery Way last year and has been working to develop and implement new treatment strategies, and to analyze addiction treatment services. Learn more about her here and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

Kara Crow – who has written posts on The Recovery Way.


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