Short-lived pain clinic sets off legal 'whirlwind'
by Katy Ruth Camp
krcamp@mdjonline.com
March 26, 2010 01:00 AM | 6357 views | 7 7 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KENNESAW - The Pain Express clinic opened its doors Feb. 1 in the Shops at Shiloh shopping center in Kennesaw, and it didn't take long for police and business neighbors to suspect that something was not right. Its closure in March now has local governments rethinking permits and ordinances that allow for clinics.

Kennesaw police Chief Bill Westenberger said the department received its first complaint about Pain Express just days after opening. By Feb. 5, police became involved in what he described as the beginning of a "whirlwind."

"The Friday after they opened, a man called to say that his daughter was working at a business near there and that she was terrified because people kept coming in and locking themselves in the bathroom for 30 minutes at a time. We also received word that a local pharmacy had run out of its entire inventory of OxyContin within just a few days of the clinic being open. So these certainly raised some red flags," Westenberger said.

Westenberger said police began to monitor the area more. Kennesaw Police Lt. Craig Graydon said officers noticed an abnormal amount of people visiting the clinic, lining up around the building, and that many of them were from Kentucky, Ohio or Tennessee.

The clinic was owned by two brothers who owned other clinics in southern Florida. Westenberger said one of the owners, Jeff George, called police Feb. 5, saying he had gotten word in Miami that his Kennesaw clinic and customers were being unfairly targeted, and wanted to meet with police to discuss it. On Feb. 8, George flew up from Miami to meet with Westenberger, Cobb Narcotics Unit agents, the mayor, city manager and a City Council member, Westenberger said.

"I told Mr. George that our paths would not have crossed if there were no complaints," Westenberger said. "He then said, 'Well, maybe my research wasn't as good for finding the best place for my clinic.' Mr. George also said what they were doing was legal, but I told him that what people were doing when they left the clinic probably wasn't. I just kept saying I couldn't understand why someone would drive from Kentucky to Georgia to get to a pain clinic, passing by hundreds and hundreds of other doctors and clinics. He said it was just good advertising and that people just wanted to come to his clinics."

Westenberger said patients were not required to schedule an appointment, payments were only accepted in cash, no insurance claims were filed, and the on-site doctor was handing out pain medications such as Oxycodone from the clinic's in-house pharmacy, while writing prescriptions for medicines the clinic did not have.

On March 3, federal authorities raided three of the brothers' clinics in Lake Worth, Fla. Graydon said George closed the Pain Express business soon after the raids in Florida. The Kennesaw clinic was still open on March 5, when the Journal ran a story on it.

According to the Complaint for Forfeiture issued by the U.S. District Court in south Florida on March 3, the brothers established their Pain Express business on Jan. 22, 2008, and made more than $14 million in cash deposits to various banks in 2009 alone.

The forfeiture also stated that the clinics' doctors were being paid between $861,000 to $1.2 million a year. It states that one of the doctors told an undercover investigator that people from Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina were traveling to the clinics to buy Oxycodone for $5 a pill, and selling them in their home states for $80 a pill, and that Chris George, the other owner, had approximately $40 million in assets that needed to be laundered.

Local jurisdictions are attempting to strengthen regulations so that what Graydon said Florida authorities have told him is a "prescription drug overdose and crime nightmare" in Florida does not travel to Georgia.

"All the states around us have electronic prescription monitoring programs, that can include law enforcement, doctors and pharmacists all monitoring the distribution of pain medications," Westenberger said. "Keep in mind, Kentucky is one of the most progressive and regulatory states when it comes to prescription drugs, which is where most of the out-of-state people were coming from."

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners suspended the acceptance of all zoning, permit and license applications for medical clinics through June 30 during Tuesday night's meeting.

"One reason we did this is because we need time to come up with a definition of medical clinics that are eligible to operate in Cobb so we don't have something like this come up. We've never had a pill house like this in Cobb County, and there are many legitimate clinics in Cobb, so we don't want to penalize those that are legit," County Community Development Director Rob Hosack said.

The Kennesaw City Council has called a special called meeting for Wednesday, where Mayor Mark Mathews said they also expect to place a moratorium on new action for medical clinics within the city so that they can review their ordinances.

Mathews said the clinic opened legally as their zoning and business license were in compliance with city code, but that he believes the laws governing these clinics needs to be tightened.

"The key answer is that we need to be more consistent with what other nearby states are doing to regulate them. Right now, Georgia doesn't really have anything," Mathews said.

Senate Bill 418, also known as the Georgia Patient Safety Act, passed the Georgia Senate on Wednesday and has now gone to the House for approval.
Comments
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anonymous
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July 31, 2011
some cliincs are in the biz for all the wrong reasons. and tend to cause a problem with addiction and drug overdose. local law enforcement is lazy and all they want to do is enforce more dictatorship in our communities. There is so many people suffering day in and day out because of this mass punishment laws made up after they shut down a clinic. well its time to fight back I myself am opening a clinic where a patient can work a treatment program and a variaty of treatment plans and if a patient needs to be on a C-II narcotic diagnoised by the doctor then its his god given right to live a pain free life.. its up to our loud and proud dictators law enforcement to do there job and educate and work with clinics on keeping out the addicts
BelleSomnium
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April 02, 2010
I don't think anyone can truly understand what it feels like to live with chronic pain unless they have it. I am DEFINITELY against doctors throwing pills at people who are not in pain and just looking for a fix, but there are many people that have legitimate pain and need medications that doctors now-a-days are reluctant to prescribe. I have had two spinal fusions in one year and the medications that my surgeon gives me just barely help me get out of bed. These 'pill-mills' should have much more stringent requirements to weed out the junkies, but for a person like me they just might be a lifesaver.
anonymous
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March 30, 2010
the chief takes all the credit and he is just a political figure who is trying to get press. you sir, are no leader, you are a puppet for the the city council. i am glad to live in a community that the polictian takes all the credit, when was the last traffic stop you made?
Connie M McComas
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March 28, 2010
Well, I believe the only mistake they made is where they were located and thier name. I was a legit patient and has now left me without help at all. I too live n a state with over regulated. It leaves most doctors afraid to prescribe anything that really works. After many surgeries, ten untis, physlcal therapies of various kinds, the only thing that help was medication. Now what in the world am I going to do? I can't afford traveling to florida. I am now living in a wheel chair and needing assistace with everything. I am hurting all the time and only lying flat makes it ease up a little. I guess I have to get used to not living like normal people or enjoying or playing with my grandkids. You did alot of real good people injustice and should have helped the move to a more secluded place...Thanks for nothing but pain!!!!
Kennesaw Resident
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March 27, 2010
I want to thank the Kennesaw Police for taking quick action on this problem!
anonymous
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March 26, 2010
Kennesaw looked at the $$$$$$$$ only cause they cant get any others business to come to the city. The city payed out 1.8 million last year it's all about the money, don't forget that.
Alan Faircloth
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March 26, 2010
So is there any due diligence done by authorities on these types of businesses before handing them a license? Do they verify the doctors or owners are licensed? What about their background? At the least, were they googled and what did that reveal? Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here, better to have never had the drug operation in place than to have to close it after having so many unsavory and criminal elements visit our community and expose it to undue risk.
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