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Contest Entries

Painkiller Clinics Use Legal Loopholes

Entrants: Michael LaForgia

Affiliation: The Palm Beach Post

Community Newspapers

Year: 2009

Place: Second Place

Provide a brief synopsis of the story or stories, including any significant findings.

The stories highlighted loopholes in Florida law that make it possible for convicted drug smugglers and doctors with histories of major disciplinary problems to open cash-and-carry pain clinics in Palm Beach County. The incredibly lucrative and unregulated businesses net, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars per week. Authorities say the pain clinics are supplying elaborate, multi-state drug trafficking organizations and fueling a spike in overdose deaths from Florida to Tennessee. The stories outlined what other states do and what Florida doesn't do to combat overdose deaths, and revealed that state regulators often are hindered in making cases against problem doctors by poor communication and heavy workloads.

Judge's comments: In "Painkiller clinics use legal loopholes", Michael LaForgia revealed that ex-convicts and doctors with shady pasts were opening lucrative cash-and-carry "pain clinics" by the dozen in Palm Beach County, an outrageous practice that was feeding a drug problem that reached across the South – and it was all legal. The stories got quick action – legislation filed to ban felons' owning of pain clinics, and a moratorium on new clinics in the county.

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