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Bradenton Council Bans New "Pill Mills" Within City Limits


BRADENTON -- Bradenton City Council on Monday approved a one-year ordinance banning new pain clinics from opening within the city.

The ban, effective immediately, is the first in Manatee County.

The council's ban will basically postpone the permiting, licensing and tax applications of pain management clinics for one year, or until officials are able to change city codes or land use regulations that would deal with these clinics, according to the city's resolution. Pain management clinic applicants who want to be excluded from this ban can appeal to city officials.

Residents and doctors in Manatee came to support the council's move in a meeting Monday night.

"We need you guys to come here and take control," said Jayne Kocher, a Bradenton resident who gathered about 100 signatures on a petition supporting the ban. "We need to make sure this ordinance has teeth and stop this problem."

Aaron Sudbury, the immediate past president of the Manatee County Medical Society, representing 350 active and retired doctors, also urged officials to vote for the ban.

The ban is a way to limit the growth of unregulated pain management clinics accused of selling prescription pain medication, such as oxycodone, for cash payments.  Dubbed "pill mills," these clinics grew at the rate of one every three days in South Florida within a year, according to the city resolution. Major Florida newspapers "described" how some clinics were shuffling narcotics to states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio.

These clinics have been a persistent problem in Florida, stemming from a lack of state regulations and prescription-monitoring system for years, according to a Bradenton Times' report.

Lawmakers tried to tackle the problem but results have been slow.

Last year, state legislators ok'ed a law that implements a prescription drug tracking system.

"They passed the bill and didn't fund it," said City Councilman Patrick Roff.

Dr. Fabian Ramos of the Pain Relief Center of Florida told city councilmen to talk to state lawmakers about enacting the system.

"We need physicians' access to a general database. This would allow me to see whether a patient has been doctor shopping," he said. "(Now) I'm blind, and I'm relying on insurance companies and pharmacies for reports."

This year, law makers tightened regulations around these clinics. Legislators passed a bill that includes provisions such as imposing a three-day limit on pills that are paid for in cash, requiring background checks on clinic owners and operators and prohibiting the advertising of drugs by their names, according to news reports. Gov. Charlie Crist has yet to sign the bill.

Municipal governments across Florida have either enacted or implemented bans similar to Bradenton's, officials said.

On Wednesday, Manatee County officials said they are hoping to propose a similar resolution to county commissioners at a later date. The county's legal team is working with the State Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Office to get a feel of these clinics' prevalence here, said Jim Minix, deputy chief county attorney.

"We are looking into it and planning to bring back a report and a proposed ordinance" to the county commission, hopefully by June 8, he said.

Not all pain management clinics are suspect. In a letter to the city council, Ramos highlighted some of the differences that sets pill mills and pain clinics apart, such as whether these clinics dispenses pills on site, accept cash for their services or bill insurance companies for their services.

Plus, pain management includes a host of medical treatment, he said. Prescribing pain killers are only a small part of what I do.

In Manatee County, the 1910 Medical Clinic in Ellenton attracted attention and protests, according to local news reports. Though the clinic does not dispense drugs, it only accepts cash, according to its website. Patients must be at least 21 years old, have an up-to-date MRI scan and a valid identification.

The clinic moved to Ellenton from Bradenton after investigation by the Bradenton Police Department, said Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston.

In other business, the city council voted to raise various building-code and permit related fees, except for the application fees for small business vendors. The latter will be discussed at a workshop, said Tim Polk, the city's Director of Planning and Community Development.

Read the Zoning Documents
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City officials say the current fees are not enough to cover the operational expenses of the building department, according to a city memo. The department is expected to lose roughly $35,000 this year and an estimated $31,000 next year if changes aren't made. The last time the city raised its fees was in 2005.

Whit Blanton, the vice president of Renaissance Planning Group, gave council members a presentation on a study called the Downtown Mobility Study. The presentation highlighted traffic congestion problems in Bradenton, Palmetto and Sarasota, and recommended several plans these municipalities can pursue to alleviate the problems. The council voted 4-0 endorsing the study.


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