Chip LaMarca: Urge cities to adopt pill mill ordinances like Broward County's

There is a silent kill among us. This killer does not discriminate, does not have emotion and does not care about the people being hurt. This killer is not just loose on the streets but is striking at the hearts of all the cities in South Florida. It is not a serial killer, or a rapist, or an arsonist; but is certainly as deadly. I am referring to the so-called pain management clinics, or “pill mills.”

In 2007, there were only four pain clinics in Broward County.  From August of 2008 to November 2009, this number swelled from 47 to 115. Today there are over 150 clinics, and 900 statewide. With more pain clinics than McDonald’s restaurants, Broward has become ground zero in the fight against pill mills. The Broward County Medical Examiner reported more than 500 drug-related deaths last year. National figures show more than 25,000 drug overdose deaths. However, new figures show there are 11 drug-related deaths each day in Broward as a result of this epidemic.

Last year, the Broward Sheriff’s Office made nearly 11,000 arrests on drug-related charges, with more than 65 percent related to illegal pharmaceutical trafficking. While I realize some cities do not have any pill mills, they do however; have the crime related to this epidemic. Sadly, the victims are so addicted to these drugs they will do whatever they can to get money for a fix; that means car break-ins, home invasion robberies, and much worse.

Our law enforcement agencies are doing what they can to combat this epidemic. But they cannot fight this battle on their own; they need the help of policy makers.

The Broward County Commission unanimously passed an ordinance regulating pain management clinics in the unincorporated areas and has agreed to educate and encourage all cities to adopt the same ordinance. The ordinance provides specific legal language for pain management clinics, creates zoning regulations, and mandates a certificate of use with specific requirements, such as naming the owner/operator, requiring them to submit proof of registration with the Florida Department of Health, requiring the operators to restrict access from anyone who has been convicted of a drug-related felony within a five year period from being on the premises, limiting hours of operation and additional requirements that are respectful to the neighbors of the facilities.

Many cities in the county currently have moratoriums to keep new pill mills from opening, and I applaud them for this effort. Fort Lauderdale has responded by passing a similar ordinance to that of Broward’s. I praise the city for taking this action and pledge to join my colleagues on the County Commission in urging the elected officials in the other 30 cities to adopt this model ordinance to aid the county in this fight. It is time to join together and act as one county to rid our community of this silent killer.

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca represents District 4.  He is the lone Republican commissioner of nine on the Broward County Commission, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Reprinted from the Sun-Sentinel, June 24th edition.