I reported three weeks ago that two Delray Beach pharmacies led Palm Beach County in the number of prescription painkillers—roughly 17 million—received between 2006 and 2012. Some residents contacted me to express astonishment at the numbers.
I’m not surprised. They also astonished me. For all the justified focus on companies that made and distributed the legal drugs that led to so many overdoses, there’s been less attention on the pharmacies at the end of the chain. So let’s try to put the numbers in perspective.
They come from the Drug Enforcement Administration database, which tracked every pill containing oxycodone or hydrocodone over those seven years. The Washington Post recently obtained the database because it became public as part of discovery in the many lawsuits against the painkiller industry. Delray Beach, where sober homes and overdoses combined to create a crisis, has filed one of those lawsuits.
The DEA sorted the information by state and county. In a follow-up story, the Post listed which pharmacies received the most pills per person. By that standard, the per-capita leaders were in rural Clinton County, Kentucky —population 10,000—and Hardin County, Illinois— population 4,200. They averaged 96 pills for every person, each year, and 90 pills, respectively.
If you use that standard for Delray Shores Pharmacy —8.8 million pills—and Dispensing Physicians Consultant —8.2 million pills—they don’t look so high. Palm Beach County has more than 1 million residents.
But now consider those 17 million pills against Delray Beach’s population of 65,000. That comes out to about 37 pills for each person annually, a figure that would rank in the top 100 nationwide.
Consider also the other pharmacies in Delray Beach that were among the county’s largest recipients of painkillers. Between them, Linton Square Pharmacy and Apex Pharmacy got 7.7 million pills.
Add that total, and you have a network of Delray Beach pharmacies whose painkiller business ranks well into the top 100. As the Post noted, overdose rates were far higher in areas with high concentrations of pills.
Overdose deaths in Delray Beach are down. Many bad sober houses have closed. But the painkiller epidemic led to the heroin epidemic. Many people suffered. So did communities. Some people profited.
Before my first post on this subject, I visited Dispensing Physician Consultant and got the runaround. The ownership doesn’t appear to be local.
I also tried unsuccessfully three times to speak with T.J. Dildine, the owner of Delray Shores Pharmacy, about those painkiller numbers. The store advertises the fact that it has been in the community since 1975. Dildine lives in Delray Beach. The property appraiser’s office values his home near the ocean at $2.5 million.
On Monday, I again called the store. An employee told me that Dildine was “consulting with a patient” and asked if I wanted to leave a number. I did. Dildine did not call back by deadline for this post.
As Delray Beach pursues its lawsuit against the prescription painkiller industry, The New York Times reported last week on a 2006 memo by the U.S. Department of Justice that could affect the lawsuit. The revelation also suggests that the government might have been able to head off the epidemic that ravaged so many communities.
According to the Times, federal prosecutors believed that Purdue Pharma—the maker of OxyContin—knew soon after the drug’s release in 1996 that it could lead to abuse. Yet the company continued to market OxyContin as less addictive than other painkillers.
After a four-year investigation, the career prosecutors recommended indictments of three Purdue Pharma executives. Instead, the George W. Bush Justice Department settled the case. The company still claims that it didn’t learn about the drug’s addictive potential until much later than the memo suggested.
Imagine if that case had gone to court. It was before “pill mills” popped up throughout South Florida. It was before the Times labeled Delray Beach “an oasis of sobriety” for addicts. Imagine what coverage of the case might have prevented.
Accountability finally may come for those who profited from the epidemic. It’s frustrating to realize, however, that we might have prevented the epidemic.
Local patient brokering
Patient brokering became another way to exploit those in recovery and create problems for cities where sober homes had proliferated. The 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach this month issued an opinion that could allow more prosecutions on this charge.
In March, Boca Raton resident James Francis Kigar was among several charged with patient brokering and conspiracy to commit patient brokering. The allegations concern kickbacks from labs for referrals of patients who need their urine tested.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Coastal Laboratory in Lake Park paid for referrals from Whole Life Recovery, of which Kigar is a manager. Coastal allegedly billed insurance companies $2.1 million for urine tests from Whole Life patients.
Kigar faced more than 100 counts of patient brokering. He argued that his attorney had advised him that state law did not cover the transactions in question. Kigar wanted to submit an “advise of counsel” defense. After Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Laura Johnson agreed, the state appealed.
In its Aug. 8 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 4th DCA unanimously sided with state attorney’s office. The judges ruled that if Kigar could assert that his lawyer told him the actions were legal, he almost certainly would be acquitted. “In the event of acquittal,” the opinion states, “principles of double jeopardy would prevent the state from seeking review, thus making the prejudice irreparable.”
The Palm Beach Post reported that nearly 100 defendants were awaiting the ruling. Those cases now presumably could go to trial.
Boca vs. FEMA update
I reported last week that Boca Raton could lose $4.6 million in hurricane reimbursement because of a dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The office of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, wants to help.
An aide to Frankel contacted City Councilman Andy Thomson to discuss legislation that Frankel sponsored and Congress passed last year. It dealt with reimbursement to Palm Beach County for expenses when President Trump is in Palm Beach.
It also sought to limit what cities and counties in Florida call FEMA “clawbacks.” That’s when the agency, years later, denies reimbursement or demand repayment. FEMA wants to deny $4.6 million from Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Frankel’s bill placed a three-year limit on FEMA audits of hurricane payments.
The aide said Frankel “is trying to see” if the law applies to Boca Raton’s dispute. Thomson said he would contact the regional office of Sen. Rick Scott.
Boca Raton has appealed to FEMA twice and lost, but there still may be hope. I’ll have more as the effort to help the city continues.
Following the Holocaust education controversy at Boca Raton’s Spanish River High School, the group Southern NCSY (formerly National Conference of Synagogue Youth) has offered to screen the documentary “Who Will Write Our History?” for area high schools.
The film recounts resistance among Jews whom the Nazis sealed in the Warsaw ghetto. According to Southern NCSY’s website, the organization strives to “create an environment that empowers teens to make informed and educated choices that further their commitment to passionate Judaism.”
A Southern NCSY representative said Spanish River has agreed to a screening, though no date has been set. Former Principal William Latson lost his job after The Palm Beach Post reported his comments to a parent during their exchange about Spanish River’s compliance with the state law about Holocaust education in schools.
“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event, because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Latson said.
The executive producer of the documentary is Nancy Spielberg, sister of Steven Spielberg. Suncoast High in Riviera Beach and Palm Beach Gardens High also have asked to screen the film.
Amid all the stories about unprecedented seaweed on area beaches, it’s business as usual in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.
City workers clean beaches in Boca Raton. A city spokeswoman said they are continuing to bury the sargassum early in the morning but are checking other cities for possible ideas. Delray Beach pays a contractor $79,000 a year to clean the beach, and the company also has been able to keep burying the seaweed.
There’s been talk elsewhere of moving seaweed if more and more hits the beaches and possibly selling it. Doing so, however, would present huge logistical problems. According to scientists, though, the rafts of seaweed may continue for some time. They could be the result of a massive oceanic algae bloom.
Car sales center approved
Last week, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board unanimously voted to recommend approval of the proposal for a luxury car sales center to replace the former Sound Advice showroom.
The site is on Yamato Road west of Federal Highway. A representative for the applicant explained that the agency would deal in “luxury collectible” vehicles that draw buyers mostly from the Internet. Boca Raton prohibits traditional car dealerships.
On today’s Delray Beach City Commission agenda is an ordinance that would prohibit new murals in commercial areas for 180 days. City officials have become concerned about the proliferation of the murals and want the time to draw up regulations for “large paintings or drawings affixed to the wall of a building.”
Fedeles get their own walkway
Boca Raton Regional Hospital will name a walkway on the new campus for former CEO Jerry Fedele and his wife. Jerry and Terry Fedele Way will run between the new patient tower and the Wold Family Center for Emergency Medicine, overlooking a pond.
Fedele led Boca Regional for 11 years, retiring after the hospital became part of Baptist Health South Florida on July 1. Christine Lynn, who chairs the board of trustees, announced the recognition Saturday night at a party she threw for Fedele.