Last summer, when authorities raided the offices of Dr. Riyaz Jummani, they did so with breathless bravado.
Agents claimed that they were shutting down one of the busiest and most dangerous pill mills in the state — one run by a man who wrote prescriptions for more than 506,000 oxycodone pills in just three months.
Jummani prescribed more pills, officials said, than every doctor in the state of California … combined.
Obviously, the raid made big news in both the newspaper and on TV. It was supposed proof that our lax state was finally getting tough on the pill-mill plague killing hundreds of Floridians.
Yet when the cameras stopped rolling, the secret deal-making began.
Last week came news that Jummani might get just six months … in a work-release program.
Your average street dealer, peddling a single bag of pot could get a harsher sentence.
The deal was so sweet that Jummani's own attorney seemed downright giddy about it, praising Attorney General Pam Bondi's staff and saying the state "should be applauded" for its actions.
When the defendant's lawyer is calling for an ovation, that speaks volumes.
I'm no Pollyanna when it comes to crime. I understand the concept of deal-making and trying to get one guy to snitch on another. It's the art of landing the big fish.
But based on everything the state told us, Jummani was the big fish.
Pill mills can't exist without the doctors.
And if you give a light sentence to a guy identified as a top culprit, then smaller culprits everywhere feel a little more comfortable doing wrong.
Make no mistake: This problem is a deadly one.
Prescription-drug abuse is a 21st century plague. It crosses social and economic lines, literally sucking the life out of people, many of whom never imagined themselves as addicts.
They are people who take a pill, sometimes for legitimate pain, and then find themselves overwhelmed by the illusion of warmth and serenity the drug provides. Soon, they can't imagine living without it. And when illegal access is easy, they don't have to.
The body count in this state has been staggering — seven people a day, according to numbers reported last year.
In Orange and Osceola counties alone, 147 people died in 2010 due to accidental prescription-drug overdoses.
And, according to the state of Florida, Jummani was a top enabler.
Investigators described lines of patients — able-bodied, but desperate for a score — wrapping around Jummani's two Orlando clinics. Some patients were known drug dealers.
Customers went to Jummani, they said, because anyone with enough cash could score the pills they craved.
Authorities documented medical offices that had "no visible medical instruments or equipment of any type."
Undercover officers found they could score pills without even feigning pain. When Jummani asked them to rank their pain on a scale of 1 to 10, most said 1. One agent said "zero" … and scored 120 Percocet anyway.
Visits were short, usually five minutes or less. And some officers reported that they even told Jummani they planned on sharing the drugs with others.
Still, after cash payments were made, the pills were provided.
You can see why investigators were eager to thump their chests when they took Jummani down.
But the chest-thumping faded last week when Sentinel reporter Amy Pavuk revealed that Jummani's sentence may amount to no more than 180 days … in a dorm setting where he can work and receive visitors.
The state also took his license to practice medicine.
Bondi's office isn't saying much about why it went so light, except to say: "Seeking the cooperation of doctors whom we're prosecuting for prescription drug trafficking can sometimes be a necessary step to get to those who are the most culpable."
In prescription-drug crimes, I'm not sure who is more culpable than those who personally pen the prescriptions — doctors who have taken oaths to protect life and ensure health.
If there are others, fine. By all means, get 'em.
And if the state wants to backtrack on the claims about Jummani, it certainly can.
But right now Bondi and Co. aren't sending the tough-on-drugs message they've crowed so much about.
Right now, they're sending a message to other doctors in the state that, even when Florida portrays you as one of the state's most extreme pill-mill offenders, you might get off easier than a pot peddler.
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