POINCIANA – Two years ago, Osceola County detectives busted two men and charged them with illegally trafficking in prescription drugs. The trail led them to Sarasota, and then to a local doctor’s office in Poinciana.
On Friday, a Poinciana physician was sentenced to more than two decades in prison for his role in what the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office is calling a major drug trafficking operation.
Dr. Jose Menendez-Campos, 46, of 1871 Laurel Brook Loop in Casselberry, was sentenced to 25 years in state prison for his involvement in this organized drug trafficking operation that spread from Osceola County to Sarasota. He was also required to pay a $500,000 fine. Campos worked at an office in a shopping plaza in Poinciana.
During the trial, Campos pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic in 28 grams or more of Oxycodone, a prescription painkiller.
Campos’ arrest highlights the fact that in Florida, legally prescribed drugs have become as much of a problem as illegal ones, and one of the most common names when it comes to the diversion of legal pharmaceuticals for illegal use is Oxycodone.
The growing problem of prescription drug abuse has become a major concern for local law enforcement agencies. Orange County has already imposed a moratorium on new pain management clinics, and Osceola County commissioners are considering a similar ordinance.
So-called “pill mills” are where doctors write prescriptions for pain killing medications that in some cases can be highly addictive. The abuse of prescription drugs is considered one of the nation’s fastest growing drug problems.
The Center for Drug Free Living Addictions Receiving Facility in Orlando has reported that addictions to heroin have, until recently, made up 47 percent of the patient base at this forty-bed inpatient detoxification stabilization facility, while pharmaceuticals – and that included all the pain pills – was at 50 percent. By October 2010, those numbers jumped to 83 percent for pain pills, 15 percent for heroin and 2 percent for Methadone.
It’s been estimated that pill mills can bring in $25,000 a day, and these clinics are particularly prevalent in south Florida. Broward and Palm Beach counties have 200 known pill mills. Some even advertise “No wait, walk in’s welcome for chronic pain” out front.
With Florida’s reputation for these pill mills on the rise, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency recently released data showing that 98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing Oxycodone nationally are in Florida, concentrated in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, and that 126 million pills of Oxycodone are dispensed through Florida pharmacies.
Osceola County commissioners recently considered a moratorium on new pain management clinics – there are currently 14 operating in the county – after Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell testified that in 2010, his office made more than 300 arrests for illegal prescription drugs. More than 100 of those arrests involved trafficking illegal prescription drugs, primarily Oxycodone and OxyContin. The Medical Examiner’s Office also reported that there were 10 deaths in 2010 in Osceola County involving the misuse of prescription drugs.
State and local detectives began investigating the drug operation that Campos was involved in two years ago. In early May 2010, Osceola County Investigative Bureau agents got a tip about a possible drug trafficking operation involving prescription drugs.
On Oct. 26, OCIB agents conducted an undercover operation and arrested two suspects, Tyrone Anderson and William Frank Sellers, for their involvement in the drug trafficking, and as part of the operation, detectives recovered 56 prescriptions for 18 separate patients.
“Based on the arrests, agents were able to obtain two search warrants in Sarasota County,” said Twis Lizasuain, public information officer for the Osceola County Sheriff’s office.
The Sarasota Police Department and Sarasota Sheriff’s Office served those warrants and took into evidence 8 pounds of marijuana, two firearms, one ballistic vest and $10,000 in cash.
“They also took into evidence hundreds of empty pill bottles and approximately 2,000 pills, of which 200 were Oxycodone, most of which listed Dr. Menendez as the doctor prescribing the drugs,” Lizasuain noted.
A search warrant was then issued for Physicians Care Partners, Inc., the business located at 3358 N. Southport Road in Poinciana where Menendez worked. He was brought in for questioning and, Lizasuain said, “cooperated with agents.”
Campos was selling the painkiller to a group of business associates, investigators reported. Those associates would then get the prescriptions filled, and would distribute those pills on the streets of Sarasota.
On Oct. 28, a warrant was issued for Menendez’s arrest on a charge of conspiracy to traffic oxycodone.
He was prosecuted by the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution.
“This illegal operation was responsible for distributing large quantities of prescription pills throughout western Florida,” Attorney General Pam Bondi noted on her web site.
Tyrone Anderson is expected to be sentenced later this year.
The investigation was a joint effort conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Osceola County Investigative Bureau, Sarasota Police Department, Sarasota Sheriff’s Office, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Health and Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
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