By Dale K. DuPont
MIAMI (Reuters) - State and federal agents cracked down on Tuesday on South Florida pill mills, dismantling what was described as the nation's largest criminal organization involved in illegally distributing painkillers.
Authorities charged 32 doctors, pain clinic owners and workers with illegally prescribing more than 20 million painkillers and reaping more than $40 million in profits from 2008 to early 2010.
The indictment reflects a "multi-pronged attack on those who contribute to illegal diversion of pharmaceutical drugs from the pill mills of Florida to the streets of communities across the United States," said Mark R. Trouville, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The clinics wrote prescriptions for large quantities of oxycodone, which authorities said were used by traffickers and addicts.
People "would often travel great distances, as far as one thousand miles or more, with complaints of alleged intractable pain," the indictment states.
Demand for the prescription drugs has grown to epidemic proportions in Florida and other parts of the United States, where dealers can sell a 30-milligram oxycodone pill on the street for $10 to $30 or more, authorities have said.
Florida leads the nation in diverted prescription drugs, according to the Attorney General's Office. Seven people die in the state each day from drug overdoses.
The indictment says that many in the newly charged group were also involved in the illegal Internet distribution of anabolic steroids, and some engaged in wide-ranging violence, including kidnapping, extortion and other crimes against competitors and people they suspected of disloyalty.
The five-count indictment unsealed on Tuesday includes racketeering, money laundering, and wire and mail fraud conspiracy charges. Thirteen of those charged were doctors ranging in age from 36 to 76 who worked at the pain clinics.
The government has seized $4.7 million in cash, as well as homes and cars worth more than $9 million. The indictment is seeking the forfeiture of $40 million in cash and assets including a 2010 Range Rover and Rolex, Chopard and Patek Philippe watches.
Earlier this year, six South Florida pain clinic owners and operators were indicted for dispensing more than 660,000 doses of oxycodone and pocketing $22 million in profits.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)