If you ever have the privilege of meeting Janet Colbert, Joy Saghy or Renee Doyle, you probably won’t find them zooming around the skies donned in brightly-colored capes and tights. However, spend a few minutes talking to one of them about their organization, STOPPNOW, and you may share my sentiment that these three ladies are real-life superheroes, going toe-to-toe with some very real South Florida villains–pain clinics. Janet, Joy and Renee are the leaders and founders of the grassroots organization STOPPNOW (Stop the Organized Pill-Pushers Now), and are intentionally placing themselves at the center of the prescription drug abuse epidemic here in South Florida.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drug abuse is second only to marijuana abuse in the U.S. today1, and South Florida, due to our state’s historically non-existent regulatory laws, has become the national epicenter of this problem. If you find yourself unfamiliar with the magnitude of the prescription drug problem here in South Florida, take a moment to consider the following statistics:
l In the State of Florida, 14 people per day die from prescription drug overdoses.
l 8,600 people in Florida died from prescription drug overdoses in 2009 alone.
lThere is more oxycodone prescribed in Florida than the other 49 states in the nation combined.
l As of March 2011, there were twice as many pain clinics (approximately 150) in Broward County than McDonald’s restaurants (71).
l Broward County is home to 33 of the top 50 oxycodone-prescribing doctors in the United States.
l 98 out of the top 100 doctors are in Florida.
Oxycodone pills and other dangerous prescription narcotics are doled out by the thousands at local “pain management” clinics, most of which are essentially no more than legalized drug dealers. Many clinics are cash-only businesses, where these highly addictive and deadly narcotics are not only prescribed to “patients” without so much as a physical examination, but where the pills are often actually dispensed on-site. Doctors will prescribe literally hundreds of different pills to one person at each monthly visit, to the tune of over one million oxycodone pills per month being prescribed and dispensed in Broward County alone. Very often, these pills are then sold on the street for a 500% to 1500% markup, making this a very lucrative environment for drug dealers looking to turn a profit and/or feed their own addictions. Users and dealers alike are traveling to the tri-county area from states that are hundreds or even thousands of miles away, taking advantage of the easily obtainable drugs that the South Florida’s pain management empire has to offer.
Janet, Joy and Renee got together in April of 2010 and decided that it was time to take a stand and do something to see this epidemic come to an end. Renee tragically lost her son Blayne to a prescription drug overdose on December 5, 2009. Joy has a 24-year-old daughter who got addicted to oxycodone at the young age of 17, and has witnessed firsthand how the drugs have destroyed her daughter’s life. And Janet is a neonatal nurse at a South Florida hospital who has watched incredulously as the numbers of babies born addicted to opiates has skyrocketed in the past few years. With each of these women deeply affected by this issue in a personal way, they got together and formed STOPPNOW to begin to put up a fight against “pill mill” pain clinics and the devastation they are producing in our area. STOPPNOW has launched a two-pronged attack of protesting and legislation, and they are beginning to see some real results. The group has been organizing picketing rallies at various South Florida pain clinics each month for over a year now. At least one of the clinics that they picketed, one notorious among users for their lax standards and heavy-handed prescription writing, was shut down as part of a tri-county DEA sting back in February. STOPPNOW is also in regular communication with local, state and federal lawmakers, urging them to enact legislation to see this problem put to an end. In May of this year, the Florida House and Senate unanimously passed House Bill 7095, which creates a prescription drug monitoring database in Florida (joining the other 34 states in the nation that already have similar databases), and also contains many other key provisions regulating pain clinics, doctors and pharmacies.
I attended a STOPPNOW protesting rally in April at a pain clinic next to the Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale. Several local and national News agencies were covering the event, and local lawmakers including Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti, were in attendance. I met several mothers who lost their sons to oxycodone overdoses, and who have since joined the ranks of STOPPNOW in hopes of saving even one more mother from the anguish of losing a child. There was an overwhelming show of support from the surrounding community, and several neighbors stopped by to share how happy they would be to see the drug activity generated by having a pain clinic in their neighborhood put to a stop. I was able to spend a few minutes speaking with Janet about STOPPNOW, how they got started and what results they are seeing. “We started by writing letters to legislators, then we started having protests in front of pain clinics once-a-month,” she explained. “When we were put on the front page of the Sun-Sentinel, that really was such an asset to our group. We’re in a lot of prayer groups, and we pray and, believe me, our prayers are answered.”
Although there are still some major obstacles to overcome in this battle, indeed the prayers are being answered. As STOPPNOW brings media and legislative attention to this issue, clinics are closing and laws are changing. As a part of HB 7095, clinics will no longer be permitted to dispense pills on-site, putting an end to “one stop shops” for users. According to recent statistics, the number of pain clinics both locally and statewide, is beginning to shrink as regulations become more stringent. The math is simple really: fewer clinics = fewer pills = fewer deaths. However, despite the ground gained, these ladies have no plans of quitting any time soon. “It’s just starting to turn around … I can see it happening, and we’re going to keep fighting until it does,” adds Janet.
If you are interested in learning more about STOPPNOW, please visit them online at www.stoppnow.com or email them at [email protected].