I-Team: New state laws aim to prevent ‘doctor shopping’

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Jeff McShan / 11 News

Posted on March 24, 2011 at 12:12 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 24 at 10:09 AM

HOUSTON -- Some new laws are making a difference, but they're not stopping an illegal practice called "doctor shopping," which is users and sellers of prescription drugs literally going from one clinic to another to obtain enormous amounts of pills.

The abuse of pharmaceutical drugs has become an epidemic in Houston. Narcotics investigators say, despite all the news coverage about the illegal activity, the problem has become so widespread that they are now seeing addicts as young as 13. Hundreds of people a year are dying.

Anita Goodman said her son died of an accidental overdose at age 31.

“He wanted to be able to quit, but he couldn't,” she said.

Goodman said her son, Aaron, wrote letters asking for help.

To explain why this has become an epidemic is simple: It all boils down to money.

Unethical pain management clinics can make anywhere from $4,000-5,000 a day prescribing drugs.

An owner with three clinics can easily gross $75,000 a week, all of it in cash.

Goodman and dozens of police agencies have been pushing state lawmakers for help.

Last year, a new law finally went into effect that they say is a step in the right direction.

“What we decided to do was regulate what a pain clinic is,” said State Rep. Garnett Coleman.

Texas now requires a clinic to be owned by a doctor, who also must spend at least a third of his or her time there.

But a huge problem still lingers.

There are currently no state laws prohibiting "doctor shopping."  That is why criminals from other states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are coming here to do business.

“Because other states have doctor-shopping laws where you just can't prostitute your illness and go from doctor to doctor and get the same prescription drugs,” said John Kowal, an undercover narcotics investigator with the Houston Police Department.

“For every one person you see going into the hospital for cocaine, heroin, meth addiction or overdose, you will see two for prescription drugs,” he said.

The numbers are hard to avoid, said State Sen. Tommy Williams.

“We actually drafted a bill and passed it out of the senate to deal with doctor shopping last session, and it died in the house during the meltdown at the end of the session,” he said.

Williams has re-filed the bill this year and is confident it will pass.

“And then we are going to update our secure website and have more real-time data about who's receiving these prescriptions,” he said.

Kowal said Shanta Beasley is accused of recruiting people to doctor shop, and that she was allegedly caught with all the pills a few weeks ago.

“Three or 4, maybe 5 people in groups and take them to the clinics and then take them to the pharmacies that they are directed to to get those drugs,” Kowal said.

Police said Beasley paid her recruits for their work and made her living selling the pills, many to addicts.

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