Not what the doctor ordered
Five arrests were made last Wednesday after a local pain clinic just a half mile away from an elementary school was exposed as a pill mill for drug addicts.
The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation ended a six-month long investigation of the Winter Park Pain and Wellness Clinic last week, arresting owner Eric Emerson, Dr. Roland Brutus and staff members Jessica Gallo, Tara Reynolds and Tameka Heard.
Through the investigation police learned that prescriptions were routinely issued for highly addictive painkillers “without a reasonable good faith belief of a medical necessity,” according to the MBI. MBI Director Larry Zwieg said an armed guard would stand outside the door of the clinic as patients were let inside for a flat fee only payable by cash.
Zwieg said the clinic specifically targeted prescription drug addicts.
“[Patients] had to give a urine sample and the urine sample was tested…if you didn’t have opiates in your system or you didn’t have prescription pain killers in your system you were turned away,” he said. “The only clients they wanted were people who were addicts.”
A search of the pain clinic’s address – 511 Granda Drive in Winter Park – on Google Maps pulls up a street-view shot from May 2013. The street-view shows a line of roughly 15 people snaking out from the small building’s door, down an accessibility ramp and continuing down the driveway. Two men dressed in what looks to be security guard attire are seen flanking the front door.
Emerson, Brutus and Gallo have been charged with racketeering, trafficking hydromorphone over 28 grams, conspiracy to traffic hydromorphone over 28 grams, trafficking in hydrocodone over 28 grams and conspiracy to traffic hydrocodone over 28 grams.
Reynolds and Heard were charged with unlicensed practice of a healthcare profession.
Zwieg said customers came from all across the state to purchase the drugs, including residents of Orange, Osceola, Volusia, Seminole, Flagler, St. Johns, Brevard, Dade and as far away as Bay County in the panhandle.
“A few years ago [pill mills] used to be pretty common, but law enforcement has done a lot of work on it and put these places out of business,” Zwieg said. “But there are still a few of them out there that have popped up. Those are the ones we’re concentrating on now.”
This pain clinic sat roughly half a mile away from Winter Park’s Killarney Elementary School.
“Orange County Public Schools takes seriously the safety of our students on their way to school, at school and on their way home from school,” said Kathy Marsh, senior manager of media relations for Orange County Public Schools. “Knowing that something of this nature occurred nearby certainly is disconcerting. We’re happy that law enforcement has the situation under control.”
Tips from local residents made the arrests and dismantling of the pill mill possible, Zwieg said.
“We rely on the public to give us tips and help with these investigations,” he said. “We really can’t do it ourselves.”
The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation is currently looking into how far back the illegal activity goes. Zwieg said Emerson has had a pain clinic license for Winter Park Pain and Wellness since 2011, adding that police haven’t found a connection through Winter Park Pain and Wellness to any other pill mills.