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Health News Florida

DOH Ignores Anti-Aging Scams: Report

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In a lengthy, in-depth article, Miami New Times reports that the Florida Department of Health has been systematically stripped of its strength to regulate the health professions by the anti-government administration of Gov. Rick Scott and those he has appointed.

The agency's enforcement bureau has been deliberately weakened, author Tim Elfrink reports, with the staff decimated and demoralized and resources depleted. In the article, Elfrink described the bureau as "castrated."

As a result of the agency's inaction, the article says, there has been an explosion of so-called "anti-aging" clinics where staff push hormones and steroids for off-label and dangerous uses.  Among those who are selling performance-enhancing drugs are doctors who've been convicted of crimes or given only minor discipline for past violations.

Another source of trouble, Elfrink reports, are clinic operators who hold no medical license but hire doctors part-time to write prescriptions for patients they've never seen.  The best-known of these is Tony Bosch, who operated the Biogenesis Clinic in Coral Gables, posing as a doctor while selling human growth hormone, steroids and testosterone to professional athletes and others. Twice DOH looked into complaints about the clinic but did nothing either time.

Florida now has 549 anti-aging clinics, the most in the nation, the article says. It predicts that anti-aging scams will take the place of pain clinics, making Florida home base for drug abusers. The pain-pill epidemic has begun to subside after a crackdown by the Legislature in 2011; the article suggests similar reforms need to be aimed at the anti-aging clinics.

Elfrink writes that he interviewed four current and former DOH investigators, three of whom declined to be named for fear of reprisal. New Times reports that they said:

- An edict came from DOH-Tallahassee in early 2012 that investigators, who had an average of 60 pending complaints, had to close any that were more than one year old.  And even many of the newer ones were closed when DOH lawyers declared them "legally insufficient."

- In June 2012, the agency made it difficult and time-consuming for investigators to arrange for the use of an unmarked car, which meant they could no longer do surveillance quickly after receiving a tip. Later the agency cut off investigators' access to the prescription-drug database.

- In March, DOH closed the South Florida office where investigators of unlicensed activity worked, and they were scattered to other offices.

DOH sent a written reply to questions from New Times, saying it seriously pursues unlicensed activity and provides investigators the resources they need. The agency defended its actions, the article said.