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Smuggling Prescription Drugs

A DEA press release last week shows that the illegal prescription drug trade is no respecter of state borders and that loose laws in one state can supply addicts in neighboring states, including South Carolina.

The story revolves around an indictment unsealed in Savannah that names six additional defendants in an ongoing “pill mill” operation operating out of Georgia. The method used to obtain prescription drugs fraudulently is well known – a clinic is opened where anyone who says they have pain can get a quick prescription for oxycodone or hydrocodone for cash. In this case, the conspiracy involved a single clinic that prescribed hundreds of thousands of doses.

One of the more suspicious aspects was that a clinic in Georgia should have patients from other states, including 130 from Kentucky, 50 from North Carolina, 30 from South Carolina and 80 from Florida. Why, other than ease of access, would anyone make the trip? The DEA suspects a network of patient “mules” who visit multiple clinics and accumulate narcotic prescriptions, fill them for cash while still in-state, and then transport the drugs back to their home states for sale on the black market.

The fact that this is worthwhile tells a bit about how insidious the prescription drug problem is. Unlike with heroin or other street drugs, these items have to be obtained through a legitimate source, making the problem more visible than with other drugs. However, just as in any market, it becomes a matter of finding the most reliable supply at the cheapest price for your customers. Pill mills fill this need.

The money is good enough that criminals will risk serious penalties. In this case, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of a million dollars. Included in the conspiracy charges are charges for money laundering, also a 20 year felony. The six indicted also face forfeiture of assets, and these were listed as personal property and the direct cash accrued: $365,000.

One advantage the DEA has in these cases is the fixed nature of a clinic and the patient records kept. It isn’t always easy to bust a pill mill, but when they are, the paper trail is available for prosecutors to make their case.

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