KISSIMMEE – Florida’s reputation as a popular place to get illegally prescribed pain medications like oxycodone took another hit last week, when 29 people got arrested in a sting dubbed Operation Rx Printshop.
This was a special operation that targeted a group of people who set up an organized effort to print fake prescriptions for pain medications like oxycodone, hyrdromorphone and alprazolam, noted Twis Lizasuain, public information officer for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office.
“The individuals would fill the fraudulent prescriptions and sell them illegally on the street,” Lizasuain noted. “Those individuals filling the fraudulent prescriptions would be paid a small amount of the pills in exchange for pretending to be patients.”
The war against the illegal use of legal pain medications has become a top priority for local law enforcement agencies, and for years now, Florida has developed a growing problem as a hotbed for prescription drug abuse.
In 2010, Orange County commissioners went so far as to impose a moratorium on new pain management clinics, or “pill mills,” where doctors write prescriptions for pain killing medications that in some cases can be highly addictive.
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 alone have had more than 200 known pill mills operating at once. Some even advertise “No wait, walk in’s welcome for chronic pain” out front.
In 2011, while testifying before Congress about the problem, Gov. Rick Scott noted that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s data indicated that 98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing Oxycodone nationally are in Florida, concentrated in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, and 126 million pills of Oxycodone are dispensed through Florida pharmacies.
“When confronted with these numbers, a serious problem is plain to see,” Scott testified. “However, the nature of our response to the problem is sometimes less clear.”
Operation Rx Printshop was an undercover investigation and joint effort between Osceola County Investigative Bureau agents, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Kissimmee Police Department and St. Cloud Police Department. What detectives uncovered, Lizasuain said, was a host of people involved in printing the fraudulent prescriptions.
“The prescriptions were written on DEA numbers of unsuspecting physicians not involved in the scheme,” Lizasuain noted.
The 29 suspects were arrested on felony warrants, and most face charges that include conspiracy to traffic in oxycodone and hydromorphone and obtaining prescriptions by fraud.
Agents are still looking for four suspects who have similar felony warrants, including Amy Dembinski, 32; Mathew Barry, 33; Carolyn Driscoll, 31; and Shane David Lee, 28, who Lizasuain said are still at large.
Anyone with information about those suspects, or this case, is being asked to call the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office at 407-348-2222 or Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS (8477). Calls made to Crimeline remain anonymous, and tips that lead to an arrest can be eligible for cash rewards of up to $1,000.
Lizasuain said this investigation is on-going, and information obtained so far will be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
According to the Web site Drugs.com., Oxycodone is a narcotic pain reliever similar to morphine, used to treat moderate to severe pain.
“Oxycodone may be habit-forming and should be used only by the person it was prescribed for,” the site notes. “Keep the medication in a secure place where others cannot get to it.”
In an effort to crack down on the illegal use of these narcotics, Gov. Scott created a Statewide Drug Strike Force, as a multiagency cooperative effort to target the sources of these drugs before they hit the streets.
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