LawGC Fights to Protect Small Businesses in Wilton Manors

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Article Published at SFGN on 2/15/2012

The City of Wilton Manors has enacted a controversial ordinance that would limit the amount of pain medications smaller neighborhood pharmacies can dispense. The new law, passed to regulate pain management clinics, may nevertheless adversely impact thousands of HIV and cancer patients in the area.

Two of the pharmacies affected, The Medicine Shoppe and Quick Script, have hired prominent local attorney, George Castrataro, to overturn the ordinance. Castrataro has indicated he is prepared to go to court and seek an injunction to prevent implementation of the new law.

He stated the new law will "undermine substantial rights of the specialty pharmacies and over 2,000 of their constituents." Castrataro stated that the city "had failed to consider the implications and overreaching aspects of the ordinance."

Owner of The Medicine Shoppe, Lynn Williams, said the ordinance would certainly harm her pharmacy.

"This will definitely impact us and be detrimental to my patients," she said. "They want to control how I dispense class 2 medications."

Class 2 medications include Percocet, oxycodone, and methadone. Even though the community pharmacy is not a pain clinic, it still affects her patients.

"We do not specialize in pain meds at all," she said. "Our business is 75 to 80 percent HIV medications."

Even so many of Williams' HIV and cancer patients use medications to treat their pain, which means they may have to go elsewhere to get those medications. Larger pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS would not be subject to the new rules.

"Many of our patients prefer a smaller pharmacy to get the attention and care that they need," she said. "I really don't think it's fair [the larger ones] are exempt."

Castrataro said the ordinance really targets small businesses.

"Specialty pharmacies service highly vulnerable populations and individuals suffering from numerous chronic and life threatening conditions," he noted.

The ordinance passed the City Commission on Jan. 10 and businesses had to be in compliance by Feb. 9.

"They didn't even send out a letter to the businesses until Jan. 31," Castrataro said. "Since a letter may be in the mail for five days they gave almost no time to the businesses to even comply with the new rules."

Castrataro explained that smaller pharmacies would have to get an exemption to continue selling pain medications up to 5,000 units, provided they agree to sign a lengthy waiver which includes provisions allowing the Police Department to inspect the premises without notice, warrant or authority.

Smaller pharmacies who dispense more than 5,000 units per month would also need to seek a special license that creates even stricter conditions, such as not being open after 7 p.m., not accepting cash, and not dispensing more than three days worth of pain medications at any time.

"Where did they even get the 5,000 number? It seems arbitrary to me. This substantially limits their ability to do business," Castrataro said. However, large pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens are totally exempt from these rules.

Castrato argues that it is not "fair... This is a poorly drafted ordinance."

Castrataro's strong letter to city manager, Joseph Gallegos, advised that the ill-conceived ordinance is inherently "flawed," along with being "arbitrary and capricious."

Gallegos declined to comment on the ordinance at this time. Castrataro said he'd like to think that this ordinance is merely a mistake and some of these provisions are not intentional, but oversights.

City officials have supported the ordinance in an attempt to regulate pain clinics, which have been the target of recent enforcement activity by the state. Many other municipalities around South Florida have also taken steps to regulate pain clinics, but Castrataro said the Wilton Manors ordinance is the most restrictive he's seen. The goal of the ordinance is to restrict illegal drug use, but Castrataro argues "that the cure being proposed is worse than the illness."

Williams recognizes the need to regulate pain clinics, but contends her pharmacy is not a 'pain clinic.' The Medicine Shoppe has been in Wilton Manors for 30 years, long before the recent surge of pain management clinics all over the state. Less than 10 percent of her business comes from pain medications. She worries, however, that her patients will go elsewhere if they can't get all of their prescriptions filled at the same place.

Castrataro's argument is that the ordinance requires smaller pharmacies to adapt to a "remarkably prejudicial" law, which "places them at a substantial competitive disadvantage- compared to their large retail counterparts." Castrataro has sent a legal memorandum to the city stating that the ordinance compromises and "grossly undermines the constitutionally protected interests" of his clients.

Indicating that he will go to court to seek relief if the city does not alter the law before February 28, Castrataro has asked for a meeting with Joseph Gallegos, the city manager. So far no meeting has been scheduled.

In the past year, Castrataro has developed a reputation for standing up to city initiatives impacting the community, from representing a former gay Hollywood police officer who was terminated for doing a porn film, and his battle for Occupy Fort Lauderdale, preventing the arrest of protestors at city hall.