Last summer, when authorities raided the offices of Dr. Riyaz Jummani, they did so with breathless bravado.
Agents claimed that they were shutting down one of the busiest and most dangerous pill mills in the state — one run by a man who wrote prescriptions for more than 506,000 oxycodone pills in just three months.
Jummani prescribed more pills, officials said, than every doctor in the state of California … combined.
Obviously, the raid made big news in both the newspaper and on TV. It was supposed proof that our lax state was finally getting tough on the pill-mill plague killing hundreds of Floridians.
Yet when the cameras stopped rolling, the secret deal-making began.
Last week came news that Jummani might get just six months … in a work-release program.
Your average street dealer, peddling a single bag of pot could get a harsher sentence.
The deal was so sweet that Jummani's own attorney seemed downright giddy about it, praising Attorney General Pam Bondi's staff and saying the state "should be applauded" for its actions.
When the defendant's lawyer is calling for an ovation, that speaks volumes.
I'm no Pollyanna when it comes to crime. I understand the concept of deal-making and trying to get one guy to snitch on another. It's the art of landing the big fish.
But based on everything the state told us, Jummani was the big fish.
Pill mills can't exist without the doctors.
And if you give a light sentence to a guy identified as a top culprit, then smaller culprits everywhere feel a little more comfortable doing wrong.
Make no mistake: This problem is a deadly one.
Prescription-drug abuse is a 21st century plague. It crosses social and economic lines, literally sucking the life out of people, many of whom never imagined themselves as addicts.
They are people who take a pill, sometimes for legitimate pain, and then find themselves overwhelmed by the illusion of warmth and serenity the drug provides. Soon, they can't imagine living without it. And when illegal access is easy, they don't have to.
The body count in this state has been staggering — seven people a day, according to numbers reported last year.
In Orange and Osceola counties alone, 147 people died in 2010 due to accidental prescription-drug overdoses.
And, according to the state of Florida, Jummani was a top enabler.
Investigators described lines of patients — able-bodied, but desperate for a score — wrapping around Jummani's two Orlando clinics. Some patients were known drug dealers.