CHATTANOOGA (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Health has issued licenses to 255 pain clinics since a new law took effect on Jan. 1 requiring the step.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that there are another 20 applications being reviewed, while 19 have been rejected.
The law imposes regulations on pain management clinics in an effort to crack down on so-called pill mills. In addition to licenses, the new regulations outlaw cash payments for treatment and require licensed physicians to be present in the clinic at least 20 percent of the time.
In an examination of licenses, the newspaper found the highest concentration of clinics was in the Northeast corner of the state and among rural counties of the Cumberland Plateau. It also found that some doctors serve as medical directors to as many as 11 clinics.
The licenses will give the state more information about the pain clinics, said state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who co-sponsored the law.
“Once we get our hands around the scope of the problem, it makes it easier to figure out what the next step should be and will make the enforcement much easier,” Berke said.
Some counties, such as Coffee, have one clinic for fewer than 10,000 residents. Meanwhile, Hamilton County has about one clinic per 17,000 residents.
Michelle Long, assistant commissioner of Health Licensure and Regulation at the state Department of Health, said each clinic application is reviewed to make sure it meets the new requirements.
Long said she didn’t know there were 11 clinics with the same medical director, but noted that some clinics aren’t open five days a week so it would be possible for one medical director to serve numerous clinics.
Long said doctors don’t have to show documentation of the time they spend at each clinic, but state officials can access a doctor’s files.
Dr. John Blake, a Chattanooga pain management doctor, said he supports the law and wants to see even stronger measures put into place.
“There are loopholes in the law,” Blake said. “You have chiropractors and physicians who are using (clinics) as a business franchise for the purpose of profit, not the practice of medicine.”