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Pill mills, sex trafficking among state issues

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens stops in to meet with The Albany Herald Editorial Board to discuss some of the issues his office is working on while visiting the Southwest Georgia area. Pill mills, sex trafficking and a water lawsuit from Florida are among those issues, he said. (Jennifer Parks)

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens stops in to meet with The Albany Herald Editorial Board to discuss some of the issues his office is working on while visiting the Southwest Georgia area. Pill mills, sex trafficking and a water lawsuit from Florida are among those issues, he said. (Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was in Southwest Georgia on Thursday discussing some of the strides that have been made for the state, as well as the things his office will be focusing on in the coming weeks and months.

The efforts include working with state and federal agencies to knock out sex trafficking operations, as well as enforcement of legislation aimed at moving “pill mills” out of Georgia.

“Pill mills” are clinics that are sources for prescriptions for high-powered painkillers. House Bill 178 passed by the 2013 General Assembly — known as the Georgia Pain Management Clinic Act — went into effect July 1, providing additional powers to the Georgia Composite Medical Board related to pain management as a way to hamper illegal and improper distribution of controlled substances.

“If you go to a pain center that doesn’t take a medical history, and gives medications such as Oxycontin like candy, that’s a pill mill,” Olens said in a wide-ranging interview with The Albany Herald Editorial Board on Thursday. “Florida passed regulations, and they have moved up here.”

Some of the powers the legislation gives the medical board includes to the abilities to bring in a pool of qualified physicians to act as peer reviewers and expert witnesses, to establish rules regarding licensure and certification status, to set examination standards, to issue cease and desist orders to stop the unlicensed practice of medicine, and to establish minimum standards for prescribing controlled substances for pain management.

Progress has been made in the battle against sex trafficking, Olens said, by noting that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation — with the help of training — has been better able to spot it. He citing one case in which a 17-year-old girl was pulled off the street after being trafficked in four states since she was 12.

While pride can be taken in that, more needs to be done, he said, to get the victims’ lives back on track — including extensive counseling.

“Just separating them from the pimp is not going to solve the problem,” the attorney general said.

In the meantime, work has been ongoing in Georgia to take action against Western Sky Financial, which, along with CashCall Inc., has allegedly violated the Pay Day Lending Act that prohibits the making of high-interest payday loans to Georgians, including over the Internet.

For loans of $3,000 and under, the maximum interest rate for Georgia is 10 percent. Western Sky has been known to make payday loans with interest rates of 300-400 percent, Olens said.

Olens said a temporary restraining order has been filed against Western Sky and CashCall.“This is not just to just get them out of the state, but to shut them down,” he said.

A statement on the Western Sky website says that the company’s operations have been suspended as of Sept. 3 while it maintains a limited staff to support the company’s efforts as it seeks to resolve its legal issues. Representatives from the company have argued that with many of the lenders based on Indian reservations, they are subject to tribal laws rather than state laws and regulations.

Olens also made mention of the announcement by Florida Gov. Rick Scott last month that his state would be filing a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court sometime this month regarding Georgia’s water consumption, arguing that the state’s water use is threatening the economic future of Apalachicola, Fla.

“It is simply about how much water goes by the Georgia border to Florida,” Olens said, adding that Scott’s announcement appeared to be more political in a nature than an attempt to reach a settelment in the long-time dispute. “… A year ago, Gov. Deal submitted a proposal, and Florida never responded. This needs to be settled in a conference room, not in a court room.”

Olens said that Alabama is not involved in the suit, and he did not expect Georgia’s neighbor to the west to get involved.