Broward News

Pain Clinic Lobby Criticizes Palm Beach Post

The Florida Society of Pain Management Providers, the largest pain-clinic-supported lobbying organization in the state, has harshly criticized two recent articles in the Palm Beach Post, claiming the paper printed erroneous statistics about pain clinics in Palm Beach County, even after being notified in writing.

Most of the organization's problems are with Monday's story by Michael LaForgia (who was named Best Palm Beach Post Writer by New Times two years ago).

The story, with the headline "Pain-clinic crackdown stalled," explains a number of recent delays in pain-clinic regulation, specifically: "In a special session on Nov. 16, lawmakers overrode a veto and revived a bill that effectively quashed state agencies' ability to make rules."

The Pain Society issued a statement yesterday saying the article "misleads" readers and "omitted key data that would have shown a noteworthy reduction in pain clinics."

Paul Sloan, president of the organization, said he supplied LaForgia with statistics and official sources for verification. "How Mr. LaForgia could simply ignore state records and data links that he acknowledged receipt of several days prior to publication and just let his article that misleads through substantial factual omissions go to press is in my opinion simply reprehensible," Sloan said in the release.

The organization also supplied some of the statistics it says the Post ignored:

"Palm Beach County has seen a 20% reduction in Pain Clinics over the last year. There are currently 110 pain clinics operating in Palm Beach County, not "at least 122" as reported; this is a reduction of 24 clinics from the high of 134 in 2010. Based on publicly available data it is estimated that approximately 60% of the 110 Palm Beach registered clinics are interventional procedure based pain clinics staffed with board certified and/or fellowship trained pain physicians."

In LaForgia's defense, it's possible that this material didn't make it into the story for the simple fact that there is no way to verify the actual number of pain clinics in any Florida county right now. We've tried. The numbers are simply too fluid -- too many open and close and reopen somewhere else. Even police and politicians don't know the numbers for sure.

The organization's most curious repudiation of the story was this bit, about how many people die as a result of prescription pills:

"The Post stated 'Drug users in Florida are dying of pill overdoses at a rate of seven per day.' Yet the former Director of the Governors Office on Drug Control stated, 'But don't be fooled. Pill mills are not the major source of prescription drug diversion and abuse. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 70 percent of those who use prescription drugs non-medically get their drugs from friends and family.' Only 7% get the pills from a physician."

Of course, the Pain Society doesn't say there aren't at least seven people dying every day. And if its statistic that only 7 percent of people who use prescription drugs "non-medically" get the pills from a physician is true -- and there are reasons to suggest it isn't -- here are some reasons why that may be:

First, pill mills can supply a few people with enough drugs to resell to hundreds of others across the state or country. Second, many pill mills aren't run by doctors anyway; plenty are owned and operated by felons. Third, the term "non-medically" is vague and open to interpretation and could certainly imply that these prescription-drug users need the pills for a medical purpose ("self-medicating" perhaps), even if they abuse them and die as a result.

Either way, anyone who thinks that, as the lobby claims, "pill mills are not the major source of prescription drug diversion and abuse" needs to book a ticket on the OxyContin Express.

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Michael J. Mooney