For my money, the News Story of the Year in 2011 was the closing down of Dr. Charles Scarborough’s Macclenny office in October.
Mind you, none of the allegations that this amiable physician grossly abused his obligations under Florida law have been proven. Those allegations include that he allowed untrained and unqualified office clerks to write prescriptions for narcotics, that he signed blank prescription orders and he failed to examine patients before allowing them to leave with addictive drugs, among others.
There’s still a process here. The Department of Health made the allegations as cause for temporary suspension of his license to practice. Dr. Scarborough has requested a hearing, presumably to give his side.
We’ll see, but between you and me, he’s in trouble.
Because the newspaper office is catty-corner (is that still a word?) from the doctor’s office, we had a front row seat, so to speak, and witnessed as the years went by a growing stream of patients lining up early in the morning and staying until past sundown waiting to see the doc.
From what we now hear alleged, maybe a lot of them weren’t, in fact, seeing the doc. They were, however, apparently getting the pills they sought. And they kept coming back for more.
Because 5th St. is heavily traveled from the interstate into downtown, we weren’t the only ones noticing. It became a mantra, so to speak. When is someone going to do something about the pill mill?
Sheriff Joey Dobson remarked earlier this year he kept hearing it too, and he was inclined to respond the same way many did. If Dr. Scarborough is legally prescribing addictive drugs, what law is being violated?
The sheriff’s no fool, and he’s got the same calendars we have that clearly show 2012 is an election year. His investigators about mid-year began collecting statements and other data suggesting that what was going on in that office may not be legal at all.
Some of that information, it turns out, will never be admissible in court, but it was sufficient to get the ball rolling. The FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] was called in, and it has people who can find their way around the guts of computers for evidence of prescription fraud. Armed with a warrant this time, agents swooped into the office and seized 11 computers and their data.
That, and other statements made by ex-employees and relatives, was in turn sufficient for the state to order the license suspension — and that’s where we are today.
The office is closed, no more long lines of patients — many of them waiting for hours — and the state now is on the same wave length as pharmacies in Baker County that have known for years what was going on. The “favored” pharmacy, as noted by a sign in Dr. Scarbrough’s front office, closed two weeks ago.
The sheriff’s department was reluctant to confirm for attribution a remark made two weeks ago by a man arrested for driving what was called a “mobile meth lab.”
He declared, according to two sources, that the methamphetamine business, so to speak, is booming in the wake of Dr. Scarborough’s office closing. I’m no expert, but if this guy is to be believed, the jump from Oxycodone and Xanax to meth is a giant leap indeed.
And a very scary one, considering the speed with which meth ravages the body and the health problems it causes, not to mention the crimes committed by addicts to keep things going.
For the meantime, though, this development’s significance as my Top News Story is because, first, the office is no longer operating and, second, its closing makes it very unlikely a similar operation will pop up here.
Whether we’ve traded Xanax for methamphetamine in the process, and further compounded the scourge of addiction in Baker County, well, that’s something we’ll just have to see.
Let’s hope it’s not next year’s Top News Story.