Pill Mill Crackdown for The Wall Street Journal
I was recently commissioned by The Wall Street Journal to shoot a series of portraits and still life images of Jeffrey John Gonzalez and his now defunct medical clinic Southern Health Management, Inc. In June of 2012, Mr. Gonzalez’ business was raided and shut down by DEA agents on allegations of running a ‘pill mill’, or a front for distributing prescription pain-killers that later trickled down to the black market. The Wall Street Journal’s Timothy W. Martin does an excellent job of breaking down the facts, and tracing the trend of abuse of poor drug-regulation that seemingly boomed in Florida before spreading throughout the country. Read more in the article here.
The abuse of prescription drugs in the United States is no doubt a plague on our country and should be stopped by whatever means necessary. That said, I saw another issue in my first-hand experience on this assignment. That issue is one of the right to a fair trial, and one that the news-media, particularly local television, is all too apt to forget about in order break a story. I believe that The Journal does a good job of remaining objective in this story, but I heard a different story about other outlets from Mr. Gonzalez during our shoot together. I was informed that local television was reporting ‘boxes of prescription pills’ being carted out of the office as they filmed file boxes of patient records being carried out of the clinic. Whether or not the allegations are true is beside the point, which is that we cannot villainize those accused of a crime, who have not been convicted, simply on the grounds of breaking a sensational story.
Gonzalez explained to me at every turn in the conversation how he was doing everything by the book, without breaking a single law. Was he capitalizing on an industry with an egregiously high profit margin? Sure, he is a businessman. Did he honestly believe he was offering a service to those in great need, while weeding out dealers and addicts? According to Gonzalez, his intentions were none other than the right ones. Is he guilty of a crime, and did the government have the right to shut down his business and along with it much of his life? That’s for the investigators and the courts to decide – not for the general public, and most certainly not by those that claim to be news outlets.