Opioid Crisis Kickstarted in Florida
The opioid crisis took off in the U.S. before the government or even families knew what was going on. Legal pill pushers, given the go-ahead by government, distributors like Walgreens and manufacturers like Actavis, generated the opioid killing machine. American Pain in its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival effectively exposes how lack of regulation fuels the opioid crisis and death by drugs.
Additionally, this Spotlight Documentary reveals in-depth how the supply chain, from pill manufacturers to doctors who write scripts, yields millions of dollars. This is especially so in states like Florida, where political forces maintain strong ties to the medical-industrial complex.
Directed by Darren Foster, the film is a comprehensive well-researched chronicle of Jeff and Chris George, kickstarters of the opioid crises we still suffer today. Law enforcement identified that the George brothers ran the largest street level operation of all the opioid dealers in the U.S. No one put more pills on the streets than they did. The scale was enormous and they did this in broad daylight.
Through interviews of the twin brothers, their family, friends and law enforcement who took down their pain clinics, Foster exposes Florida’s opioid empire. Importantly, Foster includes undercover video footage to document the George brothers’ successful pain clinic business up to their capture, clinic closures and jail sentences. In fact Foster’s account of his subjects spools out American Pain as a true crime story. The documentary adds another spin to our understanding of the opioid epidemic. And it highlights crucial aspects not known before.
The George Brothers
Twin brothers and bodybuilders Chris and Jeff George grew up in Florida luxury. Their father generated money in real estate during the housing boom. With a privileged upbringing in upscale Wellington (home to Bill Gates and others) the twins received whatever they wanted.
When their parents divorced, Jeff and Chris lived with their mother and stepfather, a firefighter. Their lifestyle changed. They embraced bodybuilding, steroid use and the redneck ethos. Originally from privilege and doing well in school, they took up white supremacy and developed an attraction to the machismo of guns, strippers and diesel bodies.
Ironically, when a brush fire they set exploded into a forest fire, a slap in the face for their firefighter stepdad, the boys got only a slap on the wrist. Their illegal actions continued. Unstopped, their rap sheet grew to include battery, vandalism, grand theft auto and criminal mischief. However, they never saw jail, receiving instead suspended sentences or community service. Accountability never knocked at their doors.
The film shows clearly in taped interviews that Mr. George senior disdained the police and uplifted being rich. In fact he told his sons that the cops are stupid to have that job and make no money. We see that the twins’ father is proud of his sons making millions. That they also contributed to causing deaths by addiction and overdosing conveniently escapes Mr. George.
Blaming Addicts for the Crisis
This attitude of blaming the addicts for overdosing to death, Foster indicates, is one also held by George and Chris. Indeed Chris states in his last interview that he merely provided a service. If the addicts died, they and their families had to own their deaths. “They’d find another way to die,” remains their attitude.
Sadly, their mother holds this attitude too. She worked in their pain clinics, helping her songs despite knowing the addictive nature and danger of opioids. Indeed, with the exception of maybe one or two opioid dealers who went to jail, most of the pill pushers expressed a lack of remorse or responsibility. Low-life addicts caused their own deaths; they refused to admit fault. An aunt, the queen opioid dealer in Kentucky, whose like-minded pusher relatives drove to Florida weekly to pick up pills, manifests the same attitude.
Thus the whole supply chain, starting with manufacturers, bears responsibility for opioid deaths. And as Foster’s interviews with law enforcement reveal, all knew Roxicodone’s (another name for Oxycodone) addictive power could eventually lead to death. But money talked, and death walked. As long as the money rolled in, nothing else mattered.
How the George Brothers Moved to Opioids
As the George brothers took steroids, their friendship with suppliers led them to deal steroids in gyms. Enjoying the money because of their former lifestyle and their father’s lionizing of riches, they moved to more lucrative sales after meeting Dr. Overstreet. As with most businesses, the Georges started small with South Florida Pain Clinic. Then they opened another clinic, East Florida Pain Clinic. Subsequently, the lines flowed out the door and around the block. Indeed, by word of mouth folks across the south and from around the country drove or flew down for their pills.
The documentary clearly and precisely indicts Florida’s lax laws regulating pain clinics and doctors. The twins got away with murder as addicts died in accidents driving home. Then, when Dr. Overstreet died, they used his lists to engage other doctors to write scripts. Additionally, a former DEA agent who needed money helped them understand how to C.Y.A. (cover their asses). He helped them organize their operation and cross every legal “T.”
Because Florida had no central database for patients and drugs, doctors easily dispensed pills with scripts. With impunity, patients could arrive, show where the pain was, get a script in a few minutes and be out with a few hundred Roxicodone. When a mobile MRI owner came to work with them, legitimizaiton of the patients’ pain by the MRI paperwork sealed the deal.
The Entire Supply Chain Made Millions Off Opioids
As the brothers grew their franchise of pain clinics, manufacturers and distributors made millions. Of course, the doctors made more money than their co-pays brought in. The George brothers hauled in trash bags full of cash. The ridiculous happened, with parties in the parking lots and neighbors furious about the noise. Busloads of addicts came to their pain clinics. In one instance we see video clips of “church members” with church t-shirts leaving the bus.
As word got around, others wanted in on the money. Foster identifies other pill pushers who opened clinics to rival the George brothers’. Chris George, to protect his business, thuggishly demanded a percentage, and received it after he threatened to burn down Zach Rose’s pain clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. And when reporters stalked the twins and doggedly questioned their activities, on good advice they changed the name of their business to “American Pain.”
Georges in Jail
Finally punishment was meted out. As succinctly as possible, Foster draws down hundreds of hours of wiretap recordings, undercover video and interviews with drug pushers who went to jail with seven-year sentences because they pleaded guilty. Only Jeff George received a 20-year sentence because pills from his clinic could be traced to a user who died.
American Pain covers familiar ground in an unfamiliar way. Unfortunately, manufacturers still make opioids and distributors find ways to deliver their product under the radar of law enforcement. The the opioid death rate still increases today.
Chris George intends to continue in business, though in Foster’s last interview with him, he didn’t specify his plans. Clearly, unless state governments make it impossible to push pills at anything like the scale the George brothers did, folks will still overdose. When they can’t get opioids, they’ll move to heroin or Fen Fen. This will continue because addiction pulls in billions across the supply chain. For the sake of future generations opioids must be strictly controlled.
See American Pain at Tribeca Film Festival by visiting the festival website.