by Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It has been called an epidemic, and one of the biggest problems facing law enforcement today. Tennessee has passed new laws to stop the abuse of highly addictive prescription pain pills.
But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation raises questions about how well those laws are working.
Our undercover camera caught candid conversations in front of a Nashville pain clinic that were troubling to lawmakers and even the doctor inside the clinic.
They took place in front of Belmont Medical Group on Franklin Road in Nashville.
We found people sitting in their cars and standing near the clinic instead of waiting inside an often full waiting room.
Often their conversations involved long wait times.
One man said, "I have been here 6 or 7 hours before."
Another woman said she had waited even longer.
"I sat up here 9 1/2 hours one day," she said.
The woman later went on to freely talk about ways to abuse pain pills.
"Get all the coating off of them, take a hammer and break them," she explained.
That woman and others didn't know they were talking to a person who was wearing a mike.
The person, who we will call Jane, has a deeply personal concern about the Franklin Road clinic.
"I can't sit back and watch him do this anymore," Jane said.
She's worried about a loved one who goes there, and questions the large amount of pain medication the doctor prescribes for him every month.
"How in the world can a doctor, with a license, feel good about giving a man that kind of medication," Jane asked.
The only doctor at the clinic is Dr. James Pogue.
There's no indication he has broken the law.
But our investigation raises questions about how well the state's new law regulating pain clinics is working.
Jane said her loved one, whose name we are withholding, gave her his pharmacy records.
They show that Dr. Pogue prescribed him 180 Oxycontin pills and 180 Oxycodone pills, month after month last year.
The records show the relative often went to two different pharmacies to fill those and other prescriptions.
Despite having no job and no insurance, he spent more than $15,000 at one pharmacy and more than $12,000 at the other in eleven months.
We showed the records to pharmacist and state representative David Shepard.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Could he even take all those pills?"
"I don't know how," Representative Shepard responded.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates then asked, "Does it concern you there are doctors out there prescribing this much?"
"Yea, it does," he responded.
Shepard went on to say the amount of medication appeared "excessive" for one person.
Jane always questioned how her unemployed and uninsured loved one got the money to pay for doctor visits and the prescriptions.
"I don't know where he gets that money," Jane said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you feel like he sells some of these drugs to make money to buy new drugs?'
Jane responded, "I don't doubt it."
When Jane stood in front of the clinic, she found one woman who did just that.
"I'm fixing to hand over forty out of one hundred and fifty. So, basically I got to make a little money on Xanax and sh**. That's what I got to do, but you and me need to swap numbers because we can do a lot of business together," the woman said.
She went on to say selling the pills helps pay for the $335.00 monthly doctor visit and covers the cost of buying the prescriptions.
"I got probably fifteen, twenty people I deal with, back and forth. We all go at different times we always got something and nobody's sick," she said.
Our surveillance appears to show others sharing pills.
We watched several people as they stood around the clinic for hours.
They finally left with four people inside their car and went straight to a pharmacy.
Only the driver emerged from the pharmacy with a bag.
Our video appears to show others in the car snorting crushed pills.
We showed several of our videos to Representative Bob Ramsey, who sponsored the bill that led to the regulation of pain clinics.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "You look at that video, is that acceptable?"
Representative Ramsey responded, "Oh, what I saw in the video, heavens no."
Belmont Medical is one of more than two hundred pain clinics licensed by the state.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "This is an approved clinic, does that mean there is a failure here?"
Representative Ramsey said, "Certainly. Certainly."
Dr. Pogue declined our interview requests.
He instead sent a staff member to look at the videos and provided two statements which said in part:
"We are shocked, saddened and angered by the recordings that NewsChannel 5 has allowed our office manager to review."
"We can neither confirm or deny that persons seen on these videos are patients at this facility, but this type of behavior will not be tolerated."
But Jane has concerns about the amount of pain medication some clinics are putting on the streets.
"How can he justify giving these people this amount of medication?" Jane asked.
She just feels desperate to save her loved one.
"It's just sad to see this wonderful young man throwing his life away," she said.
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