Florida's "Pill Mill" Crackdown

Florida's "Pill Mill" Crackdown

There's a very detailed new study saying that it worked.

Here's what the policy did:

The study is based in Florida, the epicenter of the prescription drug abuse epidemic during the late 2000s. Doctors dispensing and prescribing oxycodone and other pharmaceuticals from pain clinics or "pill mills" were a main source of drug diversion. Pill mills were characterized by nearly exclusive associations with specific pharmacies, cash-based payment methods, and casual examinations. In mid-2010, law enforcement and legislative officials initiated a sweeping crackdown on Florida's pill mill suppliers. There were two key aspects to this intervention: (1) Physicians could no longer dispense certain prescription drugs; and (2) Diverting healthcare providers and facilities had their state medical license/ Drug Enforcement Administration's Certificate of Registration suspended, revoked, or denied, and could no longer handle prescription drugs.

And here's the result:

This study suggests that in the context of prescription drugs, supply-side interventions can be an effective tool against drug abuse. The pain clinic crackdown in Florida reduced oxycodone supply and increased street prices substantially and sustainably. There is no evidence of substantial supply spillovers across states, healthcare providers, or other opioid pain relievers. Reductions in supply translated to reductions in measures of opioid pain reliever consumption, including hospitalizations and deaths. Substitution to heroin, an illegal drug opioid, is found. This offsetting effect, however, is small relative to substantial public health gains from decreases in oxycodone supply and consumption. There is no evidence of increases in crime or drug arrests.

As I've written before, though I have strong libertarian leanings on the topic of drugs, lately I've been coming to the conclusion that control policies can be highly effective in reducing overdose deaths. This study reinforces that shift in my thinking.

Importantly, it's highly consistent with the basic drug-overdose numbers the CDC provides (note Y axis doesn't start at zero):

(All types of ODs are included — accidents, suicides, etc. — and the codes I used come from here. Hat tip to Twitter's Mugwump and Random Critical Analysis.)

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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