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Morrow enacts moratorium on 'pill mills'

Photo by Curt Yeomans: New Morrow City Councilman Larry Ferguson was sworn into office Tuesday by Municipal Court Judge Ronald Freeman. One of the first decisions he participated in was a unanimous vote by the council to implement a one-year moratorium on “pill mills.” 

Photo by Curt Yeomans: New Morrow City Councilman Larry Ferguson was sworn into office Tuesday by Municipal Court Judge Ronald Freeman. One of the first decisions he participated in was a unanimous vote by the council to implement a one-year moratorium on “pill mills.” 

The Morrow City Council took steps this week to bar controversial “pill mills” from the city, until tougher state rules concerning the distribution of pharmaceuticals go into effect in 2013.

Councilmembers voted unanimously, Tuesday night, to enact a one-year moratorium that bars pain management clinics from receiving occupational tax certificates in the city. The clinics, according to city officials, are the formal names for what has become known in the media as “pills mills.”

The Morrow moratorium explains that it is in place to give city officials time to “analyze” the impact of these clinics, and to determine if the city needs to enact its own, tougher regulations on such facilities.

“They are a continuing problem,” Morrow City Attorney Laurel Henderson said. “Once legislation passed by the General Assembly is funded, there is a state-level registry that will be up and running in 2013.” He said Morrow’s proposal is a stop-gap measure, and “it gives us some control over what comes into the city.”

“Pill mills” have gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks, particularly with media reports of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, and regional drug task forces, shutting down several of these facilities across metro Atlanta.

Henderson explained the facilities under attack are those where “prescriptions for heavy-duty narcotics are dispensed without basically any medical diagnoses, or treatment” taking place at the location. The moratorium will not affect “legitimate pain clinics,” she said.

The resolution to implement the moratorium explains that a facility must fall under certain criteria, to be defined as a “Pain Management Clinic.” Those criteria include: Establishments that are a privately-owned clinics, businesses or offices; not associated with hospices, hospitals, drug treatment centers, or facilities that treat terminally ill patients; that employ at least one physician who prescribes pain medications for the treatment of pain; that fill those prescriptions at the same facility where they were prescribed; that do not accept insurance coverage, only cash payments; that employ a physician who primarily treats pain by prescribing pain medications, when the majority of that physician’s patients receive written prescriptions for pain medications.

“We’re strongly against pill mills,” said Mayor Jim Millirons. “It’s another means of drug outlets, and we’re going to enforce the moratorium ... There’s a regular way for people to get medications without that.”

City Manager Jeff Eady said the city decided to put a moratorium in place after watching news of such facilities operating in the Atlanta area. He said the facilities attract undesirable activities and characters to the areas where they are located. “We just don’t want that in our city,” he said.

In other action, the city council appointed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Senior Construction Analyst Larry Ferguson to finish the remaining month of former City Councilman Mason Barfield’s unexpired term. Ferguson ran unopposed for a full, four-year term, to replace Barfield, that will begin in January.

“It feels good [to take a seat on the council],” said Ferguson, after his first meeting ended. “It’s a big job, and I have a lot to learn, [but] I have an experienced council to work with, so I’m very glad about that .. I look forward to working with them to carry out the mission of the city, and to continue the high standards that we have.”

The new councilmember said he “felt pretty comfortable” while taking his oath of office in front of family members, other city councilmembers, city employees and residents. “It was exciting to have family in the audience, he said. “It is a big day. It is an important day, because I grew up in this city.”

Councilmember Jeanell Bridges, who joined the council herself just six months ago, said Ferguson was needed right away on the four-member council to meet requirements related to having a quorum for meetings. She also added that it will give him an opportunity to learn the job before his full term begins next year.

“He loves the city, and I think that’s what we need — People who love the city, and are concerned about the welfare of the city,” Bridges said. “It’s exciting to get a new team member. We’re a strong team, and to get another strong member ... is always an asset.”