(CBS/AP) WESTON, Fla. - U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local police swept across South Florida on Wednesday and arrested at least five doctors as part of a lengthy undercover operation into illegal pill mills that dispense huge amounts of powerful prescription drugs across the nation.
Speaking at a news conference directly to doctors and clinic owners, Mark Trouville, chief of the Miami DEA field office, warned more arrests are coming, saying, "We have probably bought dope from you - and we're coming to see you soon."
"When people come to Florida to buy these prescription painkillers, when there's no medical necessity, the results are the same -- death," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Wilfredo Ferrer, according to CBS affiliate WFOR.
Undercover agents made at least 340 purchases of oxycodone and other painkillers at 40 clinics over the past year, Trouville said.
Federal law enforcement officials said the yearlong probe resulted in initial arrests of 20 people in all, in an operation in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties that involved about 400 law enforcement officers. Six people were charged in a federal indictment and others face state charges, including the physician son of Broward County's medical examiner.
The federal indictment unsealed Wednesday against six people who operated a network of South Florida pain clinics asserts that they trolled the Internet for prospective patients using some 1,600 domain names that captured searches for pain medication. They charged clinic visit fees of between $200 and $350 per patient, and patients could pay additional "VIP" fees to jump ahead in line.
Court documents show this one network dispensed some 660,000 units of oxycodone through five clinics between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010. The six operators are charged with oxycodone distribution conspiracy and some with money laundering as well.
Prosecutors in that case seek forfeiture of more than $22 million in cash, real estate and a list of 49 vehicles and boats including exotic Lamborghini sports cars, a Bentley convertible and
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the raids targeted "drug dealers who are hiding behind medical prescriptions."
Affidavits filed by undercover agents show how easy it is to get prescriptions for massive amounts of pills despite complaining only of a stiff neck. In one buy, an agent is warned to stay away from chain drugstores because suspicious prescriptions are easier to track.
"I can't say this enough," a clinic employee is quoting as saying in a recorded visit. "They are not your friend, they are your enemy."
Later, according to the affidavit, the employee adds: "All right. Any questions? All right. Let's get this party started!"
South Florida is the national epicenter for illegal dispensing of prescription drugs such as the highly addictive painkiller oxycodone. State officials said recently that 85 percent of all
oxycodone pills sold in the U.S. come from Florida and that the nation's top 50 medical prescribers of such drugs are located in the state.