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11Alive investigation nets raid of suspected 'pill mill'

10:39 AM, Nov 22, 2011   |    comments
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  • Security guard waves patients inside.
  • Dr Michael Stanley Johnston, medical director of the pain clinic.
    

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TUCKER, Ga. -- Marilyn Monroe, Anna Nicole Smith, and Heath Ledger are all celebrities who've overdosed on prescription narcotics, but it's not just famous people.

It is America's silent epidemic.

CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Fighting pain killer addiction

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 people die every day from prescription pain killer overdoses. It's ruining families and communities. That's why 11Alive's Center for Investigative Action responded when a viewer tipped us off about what was going on inside a Tucker Office Park.

Friday, just days after showing video to the state's narcotics watchdog, DEA agents moved in and the place was shut down. 

RELATED: CIA Investigation Leads to Pill Mill Raid
RELATED: Prescriptions issued to Shawn Hoder

It took three days and hundreds of dollars in cash, but our healthy producer Shawn Hoder walked away with prescriptions for powerful narcotics from a pain management office that officials now believe was doing nothing more than profiting off of people's addiction.

While slouched down in the car and equipped with a camera, Shawn saw long lines.

"So he just waves his arms and says lets go," Shawn said as he watched a security guard waving people in.

Suddenly, people started running from their cars to the Georgia Health Associates Pain Management Office in Tucker, Georgia.

"Follow ups make a straight line. Some of you all do coke. I know you know what a straight line is," the security guard said has he directed people into the clinic.

RAW VIDEO: 11Alive News CIA Undercover Investigation

"Holy Crap!" said Rick Allen of Georgia's Drugs and Narcotics Agency, when we showed him our undercover video, "It's not your everyday doctor's office. Let put it that way."

He said it's a classic example of what happens at a pill mill operation, where people come from out of state to avoid detection.

The hours of operation state the clinic opens at 9 a.m., but daily, the cars arrive as early as 6 a.m., workers by 7:30 a.m., and around 8:20 a.m. the doors would open. Hoder saw this happen every time he went.

To get a better look, Hoder went inside with a camera hidden inside a button.

"Good morning. Good morning. Follow up?" said the women behind the counter.

Hoder was not asked if he was in pain. Instead, he was given directions to go get an MRI and told where to go, Greater Georgia Imaging in Norcross. Again, cash only.

This time he's asked about pain. However, he doesn't admit to any and he's left in a waiting room with familiar faces. People he saw at the Pain Management office. They talk about how many pills they can get. Then, hours later, he's sent to the back and out to a trailer.

"Nice and busy today," said the guy conducting the MRI.

An MRI is done, yet they wouldn't give the report to Hoder or to any other clinic until the ordering physician had a chance to review it and give the results.

No one ever showed Shawn that MRI. He never saw anyone who described themselves as a doctor, yet he was handed prescriptions for powerful pain killers.

After three days, $670 and no mention of pain, Hoder got prescriptions for narcotic pain killers; 84 30-milligram tablets of Oxycodone and 84 Lortab, a combination of Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen. Again, he never said he was in pain.

"You said you were in no pain, and they still gave you pain medicine. That's a huge red flag," Allen said. "Physicians are going to get you the meds needed to get you through. They're not going to give you a bucketful."

All three prescriptions were typed out and signed for by a doctor named Michael Stanley Johnston, a man Hoder never saw.

Our biggest surprise, the frequent visitor card Hoder was handed. His seventh return visit is free.

According to law enforcement, the amount of narcotics that we got prescriptions for could fetch at least $5,000 on the street.

After showing our video to Allen, DEA agents moved in last Friday and shut the clinic down.

Do you need help with an addiction and are seeking treatment? There is some place you can turn. 

 24 Hour Hotline  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services:  800-662-HELP (4357)

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