Florida has become a pill popper’s paradise and the main source of an illicit prescription drug pipeline. Lax laws and little oversight have led to a booming number of storefront pain management clinics that dispense painkillers, particularly Oxycodone, like candy. A potent narcotic — basically, heroin made in a lab — Oxy is the drug of choice for a growing number of addicts and traffickers. “Legal drug dealers,” one law enforcement official calls Florida’s clinics.
Mariana van Zeller follows the pain pill pipeline from Florida, the “Colombia of prescription drugs”, where 85 percent of all the nation’s Oxycodone is prescribed, to Appalachia, where Oxy from the Sunshine State is in high demand.
In Florida, Mariana goes “doctor shopping” with Todd, an Oxy addict who has already lost his brother and wife to painkiller overdoses. When Todd is turned away from a clinic, he scores through a dealer, a 70-year-old grandmother who sells pills out of her home.
We also meet Todd’s mom, Maureen, as she fights to keep her only remaining son alive and crusades to change Florida’s prescription drug laws. “If Florida had a prescription drug monitoring program,” she says. “I think my kids would have had a chance to make it through rehab.” In the meantime, she gives Todd an ultimatum: shape up or go back to detox for the 16th time.
When Mariana takes a hidden camera inside a pain clinic in Ft. Lauderdale, she discovers that many of her fellow “patients” have driven 18 hours and nearly a thousand miles to see the good doctor. “They’re real liberal with dispensing narcotics down here,” says a man from Ohio.
Pursuing this lead, Mariana hops a flight on the “Oxy Express,” a low cost airline popular with pill heads and dealers transporting drugs from Florida to Appalachia. In Greenup, Kentucky, Mariana witnesses the devastating impact Florida’s pills have had on rural communities. Everyone has been affected, from addicted mothers serving time in overcrowded prisons to families that both deal and inject Oxy.
“We’re drowning in pills from Florida,” says Sheriff Keith Cooper, a a small town lawman taking on a growing national epidemic. “Florida is killing us.”
Film from 2009