From my earliest memories, I have had leg aches. They come on fairly suddenly for no apparent reason. It wasn’t until my 20’s when I figured out they related to the weather and changes in barometric pressure. I know, it sounds like folk-magic. But it’s true . As I was growing up, my parents would wrap my knees in stretch bandages and rub my legs with witch hazel. One thing they never did was offer me a pill for my pain. Never. In the pre-1980’s world, pain was part of life and mostly bearable.
My how things have changed. America–with 5% of the world’s population–went from consuming less than 5% of the world’s prescription opioids in the 1960’s to now consuming some of the highest percentages of prescription opioids such as oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, etc.
In 2015, John Temple, an investigative journalist and journalism professor, wrote American Pain. It was one of three key books released that year in response to our opioid epidemic, the other two being Dreamland and The Big Fix. The title is taken from the “king” of the Florida pill mills, American Pain, a mega-clinic expressly created to serve addicts posing as patients. From a fortress-like former bank building with security guards, American Pain’s five doctors distributed massive quantities of oxycodone to hundreds of customers a day, mostly traffickers and those addicted, who came by the van load. Former strippers operated the pharmacy, counting out pills and stashing cash in garbage bags. Under their lab coats, the doctors carried guns.
American Pain was the brainchild of Chris George, a 27-yr-old convicted drug felon. He grew up in ultra-rich Wellington where millionaires and luminaries have homes. He and his twin brother hung out with mobsters, invested in strip clubs, brawled with cops, and grinned for their mug shots. A local doctor clued the brothers into the burgeoning underground market for lightly regulated prescription painkillers. In Florida, pain clinics could dispense the meds, and no one tracked the patients. Seizing the opportunity, Chris George teamed up with the doctor and word got out. Just two years later Chris had raked in $40 million and 90 percent of the pills his doctors prescribed flowed north to feed the rest of the country’s insatiable narcotics addiction. Meanwhile, hundreds more pain clinics in the mold of American Pain had popped up in the Sunshine State, creating a gigantic new drug industry. An industry that Purdue Pharma was more than happy to see expanding. (An update on Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, and the attorney general of Massachusetts lawsuit details):
Publishers Weekly says: “This exhilarating blow-by-blow account details how brothers Chris and Jeff George and their sidekick, Derik Nolan, steroids-fueled collaborators with no prior medical experience, exploited Florida’s lax prescription drug laws to operate the largest pain clinic in the United States, from 2008 until a raid brought it all crashing down in 2010.”
Library Journal says: “Temple has written a propulsive prequel of sorts to Sam Quinones’s Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, which takes a macro look at how Mexican heroin has supplanted prescription painkillers as the opiate of choice.”
I encourage everyone to read these books and be informed. If you don’t have any family or friends dealing with the daily trauma of addiction and its consequences, you may someday have children or grandchildren who are. Prevention is the best way to ensure that you won’t be grieving the loss of someone you love from death by overdose.
AMERICAN PAIN: John Temple website
DREAMLAND: Sam Quinones website
THE BIG FIX: NPR Interview of Tracey