During the height of the opioid crisis, two pharmacies in Delray Beach received more prescription pain pills than any others in Palm Beach County—17 million combined.
Last week, the Washington Post published the Drug Enforcement Administration’s database of pain pill distribution from 2006 until 2012. It became public as the result of civil lawsuits against makers, distributors and retailers of the pills. The paper describes the database as “a virtual road map” of the opioid epidemic that ravaged many Florida communities, especially Delray Beach.
According to the website, Delray Shores Pharmacy received 8,815,330 painkillers during that period. The store is downtown, about a block north of East Atlantic Avenue. Dispensing Physicians Consultant, on Linton Boulevard just east of Military Trail, received 8,164,780 pills.
A Palm Springs pharmacy was just behind Dispensing Physicians Consultant. For comparison, however, the fifth-ranked pharmacy in the county, in West Palm Beach, received slightly fewer than 5 million pills. Those two Delray Beach pharmacies received more pills than any store in Miami-Dade County.
A wide look at the database shows how Delray Beach, a city of roughly 60,000 a decade-plus ago, became nearly overwhelmed by addiction to legal but overprescribed drugs. Linton Square Pharmacy, on South Congress Avenue, ranked ninth in the county, receiving 4.1 million pills. Apex Pharmacy, west of Delray Beach on Atlantic Avenue, received 3.6 million.
I went to Delray Shores Pharmacy on Wednesday morning, hoping to speak with pharmacist/owner T.J. Dildine. He said he was too busy. “We’re short-staffed,” said another employee.
Dildine said I could try later. I called in the early afternoon and was told that he was making compounds, but that I could try later. I waited two hours and called again. The woman who answered the phone said Dildine had left to pick up his child from school.
The window of the pharmacy on Linton Boulevard advertises the store as Ira’s Discount Pharmacy. An employee, however, confirmed that the name is and has been Dispensing Physician Consultant. Aside from that, no one wanted to say much.
Records list George Drogaris as the owner of Dispensing Physician Consultant. The employee did confirm that. I asked to speak with Drogaris and was told that he wasn’t in the store.
When would he be there? “He’s “in and out.” Where does he live? “New York.” Where in New York? No answer. State records list a mailing address for George Drogaris on Staten Island.
Who runs the store day-to-day? “Koko.” Is that a first name or last name? “Just Koko.” Records list Prokopios Panagakos as an officer and registered agent of Dispensing Physician Consultant. The mailing address for Panagakos is a Boca Raton home, for which the mailing address on the property appraiser’s website is a home in Pompano Beach.
According to the appraiser’s website, Prokopios Panagakos owns eight Palm Beach County properties in addition to the home in Boca Raton. Six are condos and two are single-family homes. All but one sold for less than $50,000, some right after the real estate crash.
DEA records show that 5.6 billion prescription painkillers came to Florida between 2006 and 2012. Many of those then went from South Florida “pill mills” to Appalachia and the Midwest, where they fueled opioid scourges in those areas.
Lawsuits have targeted the makers and distributors of these pills. Walgreen’s was the largest distributor to Florida, at about 1.43 billion, followed by Cardinal Health and McKesson. Actavis Pharma was the largest manufacturer, at roughly 2.3 billion.
Behind those staggering numbers are the countless individual tragedies that cascaded and created a crisis for Delray Beach. Sober house profiteers invaded the city, buying up houses whose value had plunged. Addicts who didn’t die were overdosing in public. The fire department was offering counseling to paramedics who sometimes dealt with four or five overdoses in a shift.
Delray Beach is working back from a crisis that grew out of reckless greed. The painkiller industry fought hard to keep the DEA database secret. You can see why.
More on Delray’s opioid lawsuit
Among its many responses to the opioid epidemic, Delray Beach filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages from those painkiller profiteers. It is one of roughly 1,900 filed by governments and Native American tribes.
Many of those lawsuits were consolidated in an Ohio court. Some are set for trial in October, but City Attorney Lynn Gelin said this week that Delray Beach’s won’t be one of them.
Gelin told me that lawyers chose a few “bellwether” cases for this trial. Delray Beach and others were invited to be part of an exploratory “resolution class,” with all parties discussing a possible settlement. “It’s kind of a new concept,” Gelin said, adding that Delray Beach would be “in a good position” either way because the city would not be bound by any settlement terms.
There are so many lawsuits against the makers, distributors and sellers of opioids that it can be hard to sort them out. The financial damages sought are as staggering as the numbers of pills. Oklahoma wants $17.5 billion over 30 years just from Johnson & Johnson. The state already settled with Purdue Pharma, which developed Oxycontin, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Those settlements totaled about $350 million.
Delray Beach seeks reimbursement for the financial costs of dealing with the epidemic. The personal costs in the city and across Florida are beyond calculation.
IPIC bankruptcy rumors
IPIC may declare bankruptcy, which would be bad news for investors and for Boca Raton and Delray Beach.
In a letter Monday, the company said it failed to make a $10 million loan payment to a pair of Alabama-based public employee pension funds. The company owes the funds $204 million but has just $2.2 million in cash.
“There can be no assurance,” IPIC said, “as to when or whether we will be able to access additional funds under our credit facility or restructure our outstanding indebtedness. We may elect to implement a restructuring or a strategic alternative through Chapter 11.”
When IPIC went public in 2018, the stock price was nearly $15. On Monday, when the letter went out, the price dropped 40 percent and is trading at about $1. The company lost $30 million last year and $9.3 million during the first three months of this year.
IPIC operates 16 high-end theaters. The Boca Raton location is a key component of Mizner Park. The Delray Beach location just opened in March, and the company had promised to move its headquarters from Boca. IPIC has about 250 full-time employees and 2,500 part-timers.
Delray Beach officials who approved it in 2015 saw the project as complementing the many restaurants and bars on East Atlantic Avenue. The community redevelopment agency sold IPIC the site, which had been home to the city library and the chamber of commerce.
A bankruptcy filing under Chapter 11 would allow IPIC to keep operating, but the company almost certainly would have to close some theaters. IPIC has not provided a location-by-location breakdown on performance.
BRRH number one
US News has ranked Boca Raton Regional Hospital first in Palm Beach County for 2019.
Statewide, Boca Regional ranks 21st. Cleveland Clinic Florida, which Boca Regional considered for its new partnership, came in fifth. Baptist Health Miami ranked seventh. Boca Regional did choose parent company Baptist Health for that partnership. Another Baptist Health hospital, Bethesda East in Boynton Beach, ranked 36th.
Match Point lawsuit
Not that long ago, Delray Beach and the city’s pro tennis tournament appeared close to a settlement. The window appears to have closed.
On Friday, the city will be in court arguing for partial summary judgment, meaning to win without need of a trial. Delray Beach contends that the city commission wrongly awarded Match Point a 25-year contract in 2005 without competitive bidding. Match Point contends that it was the only company that could have promoted the event.
And now there are three
Delray Beach is now down to three candidates for city manager.
After the city’s headhunter culled the 48 applicants to five finalists, the company asked Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners to list their top three choices, not necessarily in order. It became clear, Commissioner Ryan Boylston said, that they all preferred the three South Florida candidates. Those are Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech, Homestead City Manager George Gretsas and Miami Deputy City Manager Joseph Napoli.
Petrolia and commissioners will interview the remaining finalists privately on Aug. 19 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Afterward, the candidates will tour the Cornell Museum, Arts Garage, some of the city’s historic cottages and the chamber of commerce and have a meet and greet with the public from 5 to 7 p.m.
On Aug. 20, the commission will interview each candidate for 30 minutes in public, from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. The commission’s regularly scheduled meeting is at 4 p.m., and a city spokeswoman said the commission likely would choose a manager after the interviews.