You’re Going to Want to Watch American Pain
In the first six months of 2010, “ nearly 90% of all the oxycodone sold to US practitioners was suddenly going to doctors in Florida.” Five of those doctors stamped ‘scripts at a pill mill named American Pain. They were good at it too. Damn good. In fact, they were “five of the top oxycodone-prescribing doctors in the nation.” Then again, when you’re ‘script-stamping for “the biggest pill mill in the country,” you’ll naturally rise to the top of the heap.
So goes the story laid out by award-winning filmmaker Darren Foster in CNN Films’ American Pain (which debuts February 5th at 9pm EST). Well, so goes part of the story anyway. Yes, American Pain “became the biggest pill mill in the country.” And yes, it boasted “five of the top oxycodone-prescribing doctors in the nation.” Foster even said so in a CNN Opinion Piece, citing Bloomberg and ABC News to back up his words. But there is so much more to the sordid story. Oh so very much more.
A Purely American Pain
2008 was “a good year to be servicing people in pain,” wrote Bloomberg’s Felix Gillette back in 2012. Obama hadn’t yet had a chance to clean up the mess left by the Bush II cabal and folks were desperate to numb their troubles. Better still, a super effective pain pill had gone off-patent, opening the market for its generic equivalents. Now people didn’t even need insurance to thoroughly sate their pain. Heck, they didn’t even need to be in pain.
We speak, of course, of OxyContin, that uber-popular pain killer put into play by Purdue Pharma back in 1995. Oxy was ostensibly a timed-release version of oxycodone, the so-called “miracle drug” favored by Hitler and his troops during World War II. Why? Well, in the first place because it created “very deep analgesia” as well as a “profound and intense euphoria.” In the second, it spurred both “tranquilization and anterograde amnesia.” In other words, the patient would be unable to feel pain, or immediately remember any pain-causing trauma, and they’d be elated about it too. Wiki says oxycodone was “useful for surgery and battlefield wounding cases.” We say it unleashed legions of euphoric zombie warriors on an unsuspecting world.
But we digress…
We don’t know whether or not Purdue Pharma was thinking about the German Army when it launched OxyContin. Nor do we know whether or not its chemists knew its roots reached back to a German Jew named Speyer who was killed on the second day of deportations from the Lodz Ghetto. They all must’ve known about the drug’s inherent properties though, be they its capacity to kill pain or its propensity for addiction. Otherwise, why would the company have rushed OxyContin through the approval process with so much subterfuge and secrecy?
Again though, we digress. Purdue Pharma made upwards of $35 billion off of OxyContin. Then, in 2004, the Feds summarily pulled the plug. That opened the door for fly-by-night operators to push generics like Mallinckrodt‘s 30 milligram Blues for a fraction of the price. And by 2008, pain pill mills were saturating the Sunshine State and addicts were descending by the busload.
And of the thousands of pill mills that riddled the Florida landscape back in those lawless days, none were more notorious than those named American Pain.
Creating American Pain
It’s a cinch to see why investigative filmmaker Foster would set his sights on American Pain. After all, the antagonizing protagonists – Jeff and Chris George – are the walking, talking equivalent of a 10-car crash. Since the brothers also happen to be twins, the attraction is compounded accordingly. But more than there sheer ostentation is the nearly inexplicable success. One would have to be staring down the barrel of a gun to ever consider these guys Most Likely to Succeed.
Perhaps that’s the point. If it takes a certain criminal instinct to illegitimately fill a legitimate opening in the marketplace, it also takes a certain criminal keen to exploit that opening to such an extreme degree.
And extreme degree doesn’t even begin to describe the Georges’ actions during their pill-pushing heyday. “The brothers were making millions and trying to outdo each other’s flamboyant lifestyles,” writes CNN’s Faith Karimi. “They bought pricey watches, flashy cars, boats and multiple homes. Jeff George drove a Lamborghini while his brother Chris had an enormous customized monster truck.”
“They became the largest street-level distribution group operating in the entire United States,” said retired FBI Agent Kurt McKenzie. “Nobody put more pills on the streets than they did. Nobody … and they were operating in broad daylight.”
A drug enterprise of that size and scope is naturally going to inspire others – it’s also going to kill people. Authorities claim the Georges not only triggered a vast network of copycat pill mills, but that they themselves were responsible for at least 3000 opioid-related deaths. It’s impossible to guess the number of combined deaths caused by the thousands of copycat clinics, but the CDC says Florida’s overdose death rate rose 61% from 2003 – 2009.
A Death in One Family; Prison for Another
When a Jacksonville dad named John Friskey lost his son to an opioid overdose, he vowed to shut down the North Florida pill mill which provided the drugs. By the time all was said and undone, the pill mill’s operator – a man named Zachary Rose – had pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
But as American Pain makes clear, Friskey’s efforts were crucial to the FBI’s Operation Oxy Alley. And that, in turn, enabled the Feds to bring down ever larger game, including the brothers George, who ended up as two of the 31 co-conspirators indicted under the RICO Act. Also indicted was the twins’ mom, Denice Haggerty, as well as 13 doctors.
Mom ended up pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Son and brother Chris pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Son and brother Jeff also pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge and was sentenced to 15 and a half years. But he received an additional 20-year sentence after being convicted for the fatal overdose of a patient.
Addiction is Not My Problem
Chris George is now out of prison and looking to set-up a real estate business with his old right-hand man, Derik Nolan, who served 10 years himself. Neither seems to feel any remorse. In fact, Chris George “continues to deny any responsibility for his clients’ deaths.”
“They said they were in pain to my doctors. They got an MRI showing they were in pain. My doctors gave them medication. What they did with that is out of my hands.”
George didn’t mention how endlessly rubber-stamping pain pill prescriptions for busloads of out-of-state residents might cause a problem.
“In the end, it’s their responsibility,” he does say in American Pain. “They’re responsible for themselves, I’m not.”
“I don’t think we created more addicts,” continues George. “They were already here. They just had an easier way .. to get their drugs. And a safer way. Now they don’t even know what they’re getting.”
Sadly, George is half right. Cock-eyed, sure. But still… Pill mills were safer than the crap shoot addicts currently face. Nevertheless, a safer death is still a death. And a crime is still a crime.
If you’re looking to get off addiction’s deadly treadmill, please give us a ring. We at Healing Properties have been helping men regain their lives since 2002, so it’s a cinch we can help you too. In fact, we’d be honored.
Image Courtesy CNN Pressroom