TAVARES — Two mothers who lost sons to overdoses of prescription painkillers applauded county commissioners for imposing new restrictions on pain-management clinics that dispense the medicine.
"I hope this saves lives," said Ellen Tidwell of Clermont, whose 17-year-old son, Justin, died from a prescription-drug overdose in July 2009, a month before beginning his senior year at South Lake High School.
Tidwell, who also has called attention to the problem on her Facebook page, stood alongside Kim and Michael Cronin of Howey-in-the-Hills, whose son, Paul Cronin, 32, overdosed on hydrocodone in October 2009.
Though unclear about how their sons obtained the pills that killed them, both families say the new rules allow for a "time out" here to allow further study on the issue by state and local officials concerned about the abuse.
Florida's lax oversight of pain clinics has been blamed for feeding so-called "pillbillies," addicts from Kentucky and other Appalachian states who trek south to obtain stockpiles of painkillers to abuse or resell.
Aiming to deter a growing illegal prescription-drug trade in Lake, commissioners imposed a temporary moratorium on permits for new pain clinics and added restrictions to existing clinics.
The new rules also will affect clinics operating in Lake cities.
The restrictions, similar to those adopted by the cities of Orlando and Mount Dora and Orange and Seminole counties, limit the clinics' hours of operation to six days a week and ban cash-only transactions.
Authorities say unscrupulous pain clinics often operate as cash-only "pill mills," where doctors dole out addictive prescription-only sedatives and painkillers to customers with only a cursory exam.
Critics complain that some customers are addicts rather than patients.
More than 800 pain clinics operate in Florida, including 13 in Lake. Prescription-drug overdoses have killed more than 5,000 people in Florida over the past two years.
Federal agents have cracked down on Florida pill mills in recent weeks, shuttering some in South Florida, arresting nearly two dozen people, including four doctors, and seizing dozens of exotic cars, including Lamborghinis.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, drug dispensers in Florida ordered about 44.1 million pain pills in the first half of 2010, more than were ordered by dispensers in the nation's other 49 states combined.
"We're not talking about legitimate doctor's offices," Commissioner Leslie Campione said.
Both families also called on Gov. Rick Scott to reconsider his opposition to a statewide prescription-pill monitoring database, which could help with investigating fraud and discourage "doctor shopping." It also would help authorities track patients who are getting excessive numbers of pills from multiple doctors.
"I don't know what the governor's thinking or what his problem is," Michael Cronin said.
Scott has raised concerns about the database's cost, effectiveness and possible privacy intrusions.
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