Crime

Fort Lauderdale "Pill Alley" Gets a Visit From Knoxville TV Station

There's a stretch of Andrews Avenue near Commercial Boulevard that Fort Lauderdale tourism officials probably would rather out-of-towners skip. It's exactly where a Knoxville TV station visited recently for a report this week titled "Aboard the Oxycontin Express" -- the latest in a line of reports on South Florida's pill mills.

WBIR's report captured the "pill alley" where four pain clinics have set up in as many blocks. There,

daytrippers from Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia are able to procure as many as 1,000 pills a day. An 80-milligram Oxycontin pill, which costs about $5, may be sold back home for up to $100.

For the report, the news crew took a flight from Huntington, West Virginia, to Fort Lauderdale that police call the "Oxycontin express." The reporter describes touching down "in a land where there's seemingly a shot at Oxycontin on every block: Fort Lauderdale, Florida."

Two years ago, WSVN 7's Carmel Cafiero's first covered the "Oxycontin express." Then there was the documentary The Oxycontin Express on Current TV that won a Peabody. "Since then, everybody's come out," says Keyla Concepcion, of the Broward Sheriff's Office media team. "Lots of local stations, some national stations -- CNN came down. The team from Knoxville is only the latest."

Responding to Fort Lauderdale's growing reputation as a kind of national back-alley pharmacopia, Florida legislators have recently approved the creation of a statewide pharamacy database that pharmacists will be able to consult to determine if a person is "doctor shopping" -- that is, receiving multiple prescriptions from multiple pain clinics and filling them at multiple pharmacies, which is how the daytripping drug mules stock up. So far, though, the law has come to nothing. "It hasn't been funded yet," says Concepcion. "Legislators have to come up with the money."

So the BSO is limited in what it can do. It can follow probable traffickers from the pain clinic parking lots and hope they'll commit a traffic violation, thereby giving the officers probable cause to search the car. Or the Department of Health can crack down on pain clinics for procedural violations.

But until the Legislature comes up with the needed funds for a pharmacy database, it seems likely that the Oxycontin express will run on schedule, and the nation will keep hearing about it.

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Brandon K. Thorp