We’ve all seen the plethora of signs and billboards advertising pain clinics and pain management services all over town, right? What’s been a problem all over the nation may have really come home to Cartersville.
The number of pain management practices prescribing and sometimes dispensing addictive narcotic medications has grown exponentially across the country, and it’s a similar story in Bartow County.
Since April of last year, the number of pain clinics in the county grew from one to at least six, according to Leslie Cheek, assistance commander of the Cartersville-Bartow County Drug Task Force.
Following the raid on Atlanta Medical Group, in which authorities shut down the alleged “pill mill,” five such practices remain in the county.
Federal authorities have not released information on their investigation, but local authorities arrested 11 people the morning federal, state and local law enforcement served both search and arrest warrants at the 16 Collins Drive facility.
Jason Votrobek, along with partner Jesse Violante, is listed as the clinic’s owner in a 2010 Bartow County business license application. Votrobek reported a Vero Beach, FL, address “pending relocation,” but it’s unclear if he moved.
Local law enforcement officers may have been tipped off to the alleged illegal activity at the facility by complaints — people loitering and too much traffic — and other incidents in which police became involved.
In October, a bomb threat called in to Atlanta Medical Group necessitated a search with a bomb-sniffing canine and the evacuation of numerous nearby businesses and buildings and road closures. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also responded to search the facility with a robot, but found nothing suspicious.
In a September incident, a patient notified police he was robbed on the way out of the office. Two men snatched prescription medications out of the man’s hand as he left about 12:40 p.m.
The clinic director, Roland Castellanos, told deputies the pair had been in the waiting room since 8 a.m. Castellanos completed the business license application, listing himself as a consultant.
Both incident reports are attached to this article as .pdf files.
Local officials also say drug overdoses necessitated ambulance response at the location, which had been Georgia Medical Center.
While not all pain clinics engage in unscrupulous practices, even legitimate doctors may — knowingly or unwittingly — contribute to what some have called the new battlefield of the war on drugs.
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and experts say it may be due to doctors prescribing more drugs for more health problems than ever before thereby increasing the availability of medications.
“It’s growing and it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Cheek said. “And the reason is there’s no legislation that really deals with pills. The biggest thing we’re running into is these pill clinics. The Drug Enforcement Administration regulates certain things, but there are certain things they don’t regulate. One of the things that doesn’t get regulated is what kind of prescription the doctor writes.”
Cheek said the “hot” prescription medication is oxycodone or the brand name Oxycontin, also known as oxys or roxys. The “normal” prescription for a cancer patient would be 30 to 60 tablets a month, but some doctors are prescribing 180 to 240 per month.
“Oxycodone is nicknamed ‘hillbilly heroin’ because you get the same effect… . It’s a synthetic form of heroin, the same kind of effects for you,” Cheek added. “It’s actually cheaper than heroin. … You’ve got your insurance and you pay $40 for 240 pills and turn around and sell them — even for bargain basement prices — for $20 or $22 a pill. Do the math.
“It’s one of the ways pills get to the streets. There’s money in it. For the pill mills, the bottom line is Georgia doesn’t have any legislation against it. Florida did some things and people had to go somewhere. We’re one of the few in the south and people had to go somewhere — Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky have it.”
Most “pill mill” patients are not local and not even from Georgia, Cheek said. But locals also engage in the abuse and sell of prescription medications.
“Everybody has the feeling that it is a legitimate thing. You go to a doctor and you have legitimate prescription,” Cheek said. “We’ve been making a lot of pill-related arrests and any time you can relate deaths to that and other things that are going on — and any time you’re dealing with people and they’ve always got medications — you can look at that and say, ‘Hey, something’s going on here.’”
Georgia has passed legislation aimed at preventing “doctor shopping.” It’s a step in the right direction, but not enough, according to Cheek.
The city of Cartersville also recently in enacted a moratorium on “pill mills.”