York County authorities are putting the brakes on a multistate prescription pill trafficking scheme.
This summer, York County drug agents have stopped four vehicles full of people traveling south to Florida to obtain prescriptions for Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and other pain medications and getting those medications at pharmacies along the highway on their return to sell them, said Marvin Brown, commander of the county's multijurisdictional drug unit.
"Law enforcement up and down the East Coast is on alert, trying to put a stop to this," Brown said. "It's people from the northern states going to pain clinics in Florida, getting prescriptions for pain meds, filling them up the interstate and selling them. It's not just a York County problem, it's all the towns between here and Florida."
Those four stops have led to 11 arrests of "pill billies," or drug runners getting the strongest legal prescription medications available to sell, Brown said.
A traffic stop on southbound Interstate 77 in Rock Hill on Tuesday of a Ford Expedition that was speeding led to the arrest of three people, Brown said. The seven occupants of the SUV were headed from Ohio to Florida to obtain Oxycodone for illegal purposes, according to a York County Sheriff's Office report.
The group - four from Ohio, two from Florida and one from Michigan - was en route to get more pills. Officers seized more than 100 pills and nearly $15,000 in cash, according to the report. In the vehicle they also found "clean" urine wrapped in plastic to use at doctor's offices in case a drug test is required to obtain prescriptions and maps detailing pharmacies to fill the medications, Brown said.
Prescription pill abuse is a problem in York County, Brown said.
"Oxycodone especially, it's nothing more than synthetic heroin," he said. "We're doing pill drops to try to stop its abuse."
The object of these runs are to get as many pills as possible. A dealer will give the runner, who is often a pill-abuser, about $5,000, Brown said. They load as many people as possible in a vehicle - the more people, the more pills.
In Florida, there's little regulation on pain management clinics, which often operate out of strip malls. Those who plan to sell medications can easily obtain a prescription or a controlled substance quickly and more easily than from doctors in other states.
New laws designed to close down "pill mills" that sell to drug dealers and substance abusers have been proposed this year.
After the car-loads from the north scam clinic doctors, they fill them at various pharmacies on the way back, Brown said.
There's a network of people doing the same thing that share which pharmacies fill these prescriptions. Some of these pharmacies are in Charlotte and Rock Hill.
"When someone filling a prescription lives in one state, has a prescription for another, is filling it in a third state and getting the strongest legal pain medication, there should be some red flags," Brown said. "But some pharmacies still fill the prescriptions."
When the runners get back, they split the pills with the dealer. One Oxycodone pill can sell for $20 on the street.
"When you're looking at bottle of 60 pills, you can make $1,200 selling it. That's a good profit margin," Brown said.
During Tuesday's stop on I-77, officers arrested three people: Kevin Wayne Simon, 41, Teresa Marie Newland, 37, Donna Jenkins, 43, all of Columbus, Ohio.
All three were being held Wednesday at the Moss Justice Center in York on charges related to this stop.
Simon and Newland each face possession of controlled substance charges. Simon also has a possession of Oxycodone with intent to distribute charge.
Jenkins faces two charges including giving false information to police.