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The proliferation of pain clinics in Florida has been a growing problem -- particularly in Broward County. Dave Aronberg, a state senator from Palm Beach County running in the Democratic primary for attorney general, has now quantified that problem by comparing it to the availability of Big Macs.
"There are more pain clinics in Broward County than there are McDonald's in Broward County," he told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board July 26.
We at PolitiFact Florida wondered, are there really more spots to buy happy meds than Happy Meals in Broward County?
Determining the number of pain clinics was more complicated than counting the number of McDonald's restaurants.
Aronberg campaign spokesman Allison North Jones cited a grand jury investigation led by Broward State Attorney Mike Satz issued in 2009. That report stated that in 2007, there were four pain clinics in Broward. From August 2008 to November 2009, the number swelled from 47 to 115. A footnote in the report states that the statistic comes from the Broward Sheriff's Office Pharmaceutical Drug Diversion Unit.
BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal told us that as of July 28, BSO lists 144 pain clinics in the entire county. But he warned "sometimes it is hard to have an accurate count because these places come and go, they are thrown out of one storefront and move across the street."
Aronberg sent us a March 2 blog in the Broward Palm Beach New Times which also looked at his McDonald's comparison -- that time he had made the comment at a St. Petersburg debate.
"After dozens of phone calls and hours of research, it turns out that finding the exact number of pill mills in Broward is impossible," The New Times wrote. "First, it depends on your definition of a 'pill mill.' The pain management clinics in South Florida range from legitimate medical business targeting specific patients suffering chronic pain to junkie-friendly, low-rent operations. Second, a lot of these clinics open and shut down quickly, only to reopen at a new location. Third, and most important, there is little government regulation of the industry, no agency responsible for tracking the businesses."
The New Times quoted Mike Jachles, a BSO spokesman, as saying there were "at least 80" in areas that BSO oversees. The New Times counted 71 McDonald's for Broward County in the phone book.
We also consulted the Florida Department of Health's pain clinic registry. That spreadsheet shows about 343 clinics in Broward, but it lists several with the same addresses multiple times, making it difficult to get an accurate account. We called and e-mailed the health department's communications office in Tallahassee and did not hear back. Two other law enforcement agencies quoted in the past regarding the number of pain clinics -- the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Hollywood Police Department -- referred us to the health department.
Next we tried to identify the number of McDonald's restaurants in Broward County. We e-mailed and called McDonald's media relations and after two days of no response, we typed all 31 cities in Broward into the chain's online restaurant locator. We found 73. Aronberg's Senate staff had done the same earlier this year, and found 78. (PolitiFact Florida came up with a different figure than Aronberg's team for Davie, Miramar and Pompano Beach. It's possible that some restaurants have opened and closed since Aronberg's office counted them.) We could not detemine a way to check unincorporated Broward on the McDonald's website. But there is little unincorporated land left so it's unlikely that would change the total significantly, if at all.
So how is Aronberg's math? A grand jury report put the number of pain clinics at 115 by late 2009. The Broward Sheriff's Office puts the number at 144 as of July 28. We found the state health department database too confusing to evaluate, and no one to answer our questions. The best number we could determine for McDonald's locations was 73 -- Aronberg's campaign put it at 78 while the New Times said 71. No matter which number you pick, the number of pain clinics in Broward is dozens higher than the number of McDonald's. We rate this claim True.
Interview, Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Leljedal, July 28, 2010
Interview, Dave Aronberg campaign spokeswoman Allison North Jones, July 27-28, 2010
Florida Department of Health, pain clinic registration, July 28, 2010
Broward Palm Beach New Times blog, "Are there really more pain clinics in Broward than McDonald's?", March 2, 2010
St. Petersburg Times editorial board, Dave Aronberg interview, July 26, 2010
McDonald's website, restaurant locator, July 28, 2010
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz grand jury report, "The proliferaion of pain clinics in South Florida," Spring 2009
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