HDNet's 'Dan Rather Reports' Exposes Texas 'Pill Mills'

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 General News
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DALLAS, Oct. 26 Tomorrow's "Dan Rather Reports" travels to Houston, Texas to investigate the very legal practice of some so-called "pain relief centers" dispensing potent prescription drugs without a doctor's care or examination. Many of these centers, that accept cash only, are located in strip malls across the Houston area.

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These clinics, commonly known as "pill mills," operate mostly on a walk-in, first come - first serve basis, and do not accept credit cards, or insurance. The average visit is around $85.00. While these centers may be convenient for people who might not have health insurance, or the money to see a pain specialist, police say the business taking place here is dubious. That these centers attract illegal drug traffickers from nearby states such as Mississippi and Louisiana who allegedly fill prescriptions of powerful and addicting opiates, painkillers and anti-depressants and take them back home to sell on the black market.

"What we see from the people we arrested from owning these clinics are your former crack or cocaine dealers from the '80s or '90s who are now getting into the pill business as an illicit commodity," said John Kowal, a veteran narcotics officer with the Houston Police Department. Kowal tells Rather that many drug dealers fill these prescriptions for drugs such as hydrocodone (a pain killer), Soma (a muscle relaxant) and Xanax (an anti-depressant). "[The dealers make] more money. And you got less overhead. It does not have to be imported from Columbia or Mexico or come across the border. It's manufactured here right in the United States."

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, nearly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs; that's more than the number who abuse heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and hallucinogens combined. These legal painkillers are the newest drug of choice among drug users and the leading cause of drug overdoses.

In his report Rather speaks to Ken and Esther Scarborough of Beaumont, Texas who lost their son to a drug overdose - drugs that he purchased from a Houston-area "pill mill." Just five days before he died, Christopher had simply walked into a local "pain relief center" and returned home with nearly four hundred pills.

"In my view [this] would be no different than if he had gone to the doctor and said, 'You know, I'm just a little depressed. I'm depressed, and I don't really know what I want to do.'" Ken Scarborough told Rather about Christopher's visit to the "pill mill." "Instead of giving him pills, the doctor would say, 'Well, I tell you what-- just go ahead and take this pistol and these six bullets, and go out to the shooting range and-- make yourself feel better. Just do a little target practice.'"

There are those people, however, who are working to change the laws surrounding these "pill mills" and how easily people can get their hands on prescription drugs. Texas Senator Tommy Williams has worked to pass legislation to combat the problem - including a requirement that physicians own and operate these clinics and that they review cases 30% of the time instead of the current 10%.

"In two of the six counties I represent, in 2006, we had over one hundred deaths from prescription drug overdoses," Williams tells Rather. "And-- that was a lot, given that one of those counties has about 80,000 people; the other one has about 250,000 or 260,000 people."

While there are many legitimate pain management clinics that Williams wants to protect, he wants to eradicate "pill mills" in Texas.

"The pain management clinics are really legitimate. There are a lot of good ones in the state. We want those guys to be able to keep practicing," Williams tells Rather. "But-- we want to hang out the 'You're not welcome' sign for the 'pill mills.'"

"Dan Rather Reports: Prescription for Disaster" premieres on HDNet on Tuesday, October 27 at 8:00 p.m. ET with an encore presentation at 11:00 p.m. ET to accommodate west coast prime time.

About HDNet

HDNet (www.hd.net, twitter.com/hdnet) is the independent network with unique and provocative content that appeals to men of all ages and is delivered in true high definition.

HDNet is the exclusive, high definition home for popular, original programming, including television's only HD news feature programs "HDNet World Report," and the Emmy Award winning "Dan Rather Reports," featuring legendary journalist Dan Rather. Only HDNet goes beyond the headlines to deliver real news that is redefining the way we look at our world. HDNet News is provocative, sometimes controversial and always relevant - telling the important stories of our time in-depth, with attitude and with independence.

HDNet presents championship sports coverage featuring five regular season games from the Premiere Season of the United Football League. HDNet also features the best of Mixed Martial Arts with its Friday night series, "HDNet Fights" (www.hdnetfights.com, twitter.com/hdnetfights). "HDNet Fights" works with leading MMA promoters including DREAM, Sengoku, XFC, M-1, K-1, K-1 Max, MFC, Adrenaline and more. HDNet produces more live Mixed Martial Arts events than any other network and HDNet's "Inside MMA" is the hottest Mixed Martial Arts program on television, giving MMA fans their weekly fix for everything MMA.

HDNet also delivers the world's largest and most diverse concert line-up through the HDNet Concert Series. The HDNet Concert Series features leading artists and bands including Coldplay, Gwen Stefani, John Mayer and more. HDNet also features revealing lifestyle programming featuring "Art Mann Presents," "New York Confessions," "Deadline" and "Get Out!" HDNet is also the exclusive high definition home to critically acclaimed and award winning documentaries as part of the InFocus series. "NASA on HDNet" presents all live shuttle launches through 2010.

Only HDNet Movies (www.hdnetmovies.com, twitter.com/hdnetmovies) delivers exclusive Sneak Previews of new movies before they hit theaters. The HDNet Movies Sneak Preview series features top Hollywood stars in critically acclaimed performances including Gwyneth Paltrow, Joaquin Phoenix, Demi Moore, Michael Caine, Tom Hanks, Vera Farmiga, Parker Posey, Brian Cox, Matthew Broderick, Brittany Snow, Eric Bana, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, Robin Williams, Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger.

In addition to being the exclusive home of Sneak Previews, HDNet Movies presents viewers with over one hundred films and an average of twenty-five "HD Premieres" each month. HDNet Movies viewers enjoy the best films from the classics of the 1950s-1970s, to favorite films from the 1980s and 1990s, to recently released theatrical films.

HDNet Movies offers subscribers a premium movie viewing experience in true HD, and more original movies shot entirely in HD than any other network.

Launched in 2001 by Mark Cuban and General Manager Philip Garvin, the HDNet networks are available on AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, DIRECTV, DISH Network, Insight, Mediacom, Verizon and more than 40 NCTC cable affiliated companies. To receive HDNet information via email, simply go to www.hd.net/listpage.


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