With over 50 million Americans experiencing some form of chronic pain, the demand for pain management care spiked dramatically over the past two decades. Opportunistic physicians saw this as a way to capitalize on the effectiveness of synthetic opioid painkillers while putting patients at risk. The term “pill mill” is used to describe a doctor, clinic, or pharmacy that inappropriately dispenses controlled prescription drugs, a phenomenon that was documented in the mid-2000s as opioid addiction rates soared.
As overdose rates continued to grow, doctor-driven law enforcement and local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies were determined to put an end to unethical opioid prescribing through known providers who regularly took cash payments for limited medical exams and opioid prescriptions. Those who participated in these illegal and exploitative operations were directly responsible for many overdose deaths throughout the years, and families are just now reaping justice after so many years.
Prolific landmark cases have taken place within the past several years, holding “pill mill” doctors accountable for the overdose deaths of their patients. These convictions set precedence with hopes to discourage further over-prescribing of controlled prescription medications, mainly through facilities marketed as “pain clinics,” which have become synonymous with easy access to potentially fatal doses of opioids with just one script from a single doctor. In fact, in Alabama, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, there were more prescriptions for opioid painkillers than people in pain; about 128 prescriptions for 100 people in 2012.
By shutting pill mills down and discouraging medical providers from engaging in irresponsible prescribing using new guidelines and databases that track patients, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, hopes were high that the opioid crisis would begin to lessen, or at least plateau. While prescription opioid overdose statistics in some areas did decline between 2010 and 2012 thanks to local laws that increased oversight of unethical businesses and medical practices, those who depended on easy prescriptions may have begun to seek out opioids illicitly. Unfortunately, overall overdose deaths continued to increase despite overall decreased opioid prescriptions, primarily due to the presence of fentanyl in illicit street drugs.
The families and loved ones of those who fatally overdosed due to reckless opioid prescribing may feel a sense of closure with nefarious medical providers behind bars. Still, there’s much more work to be done to tackle the continued crisis. Even with new prescribing guidelines, close monitoring of prescribing and dispensing habits, opioid prescriptions are still heavily prevalent. Of course, sometimes these drugs have a legitimate medical use, especially in cases of acute pain or recovery from serious surgical procedures, but the attitude towards treating pain in America requires more new research and methods to help guide medical professionals and patients away from opioid painkillers unless in specific, severe cases.
Middlesex Recovery believes that everyone affected by the opioid epidemic deserves accessible and effective substance use disorder treatment. Those who feel they may be dependent on their opioid pain medication or those who have moved from prescription painkillers to illicit substances can successfully reach recovery with the help of evidence-based medication-assisted treatment and substance use counseling. The knowledgeable and compassionate staff at Middlesex Recovery specialize in treating substance use disorder and strive to make every patient feel comfortable in a professional and judgment-free atmosphere. Call or message your local facility today to learn more about our recovery programs.