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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Florida - Land of Sunshine and Prescriptions

Florida governor Rick Scott wants to repeal plans for a computer database that would track all prescriptions filled in Florida. Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said that the electronic monitoring delayed by contract challenges may not be as effective as advocates claim.

Scott said the database hasn’t worked (it’s not up and running yet because of a bid dispute). “And I don’t’ believe we ought to be doing it,” he said.

The governor also was worried the use of a database might infringe on patients' privacy. "Is that a function of government to track the activities of law-abiding people in order to track a smaller subset of criminal behavior?" Hughes asked in an interview with The Associated Press.

Hughes has been stated as saying that the database is not a core government function, especially in "lean economic times." He also questioned whether it has the necessary funding to even get started.

Lawmakers in Florida never provided money for the system, instead directing the governor's drug control office to raise private contributions. So what was the result? One of the first things Scott did after becoming governor was to disband the drug office.

Governor Scott said instead he’s backing Attorney General Pam Bondi’s announcement that she’s going to step up prosecutions of the pain clinics with a team led by former state Senator Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat.

Many people in Florida have been anxiously awaiting the much-anticipated computer system aimed at curbing the sale of prescription drugs by pill mills. Scott's actions have created shock waves in the law enforcement community and among lawmakers who backed the program. These shock waves do not affect only the Sunshine State, but they extend from Florida all over the nation.

Why A Database?

The database would crack down on “doctor-shopping” by allowing doctors to look up patients’ prescription records. Twenty-five states currently have some form of prescription drug monitoring system in place.

Drug routes from Florida to points north have been appropriately dubbed the “Flamingo Road” and the "OxyContin Express." Thousands of unscrupulous drug dealers and addicted users make the trek to Florida because of the ease of access to these powerful and habit-forming drugs. Once there, dealers and their mules typically "doctor shop" by obtaining multiple prescriptions.When given such opportunity, those in the drug trade prefer purchasing pills from the pharmacy or from a doctor instead of purchasing heroin or another illegal drug from a drug dealer.

OxyContin, one of opioids of choice, is basically heroin made in a legal lab as opposed to heroin bought in the streets. Because OxyContin is made under strict pharmaceutical guidelines, users know exactly what they are getting. Users heat the pills and shoot them or crush the pills and inject or snort them. 

In most states, doctors are not able to dispense pills on-site because it creates a financial incentive to prescribe more pills than needed.  But, in Florida, they can.  These clinics do not provide a diagnosis or provide therapy.  They only prescribe medication and they only accept cash.

In Florida, the booming OxyContin and prescription drug industry operated by health clinics and “pain management” centers (pill mills) has exploded.  The number of this type of business tripled in 2008.  In one local Florida newspaper, the last 10 pages are devoted just to these businesses. In South Florida overall, there were 176 pill mills, up from 66 just 14 months before. (Thomas R. Collins, "Invasion of the Pill Mills In South Florida," Time, April 13 2010)

Attempts To Change Scott's Mind

Both West Virginia and Kentucky, currently flooded by Florida prescriptions, have sent communications to Governor Scott urging him not to repeal plans for the computer database tracking system. In West Virginia, thirteen members of the House of Delegates introduced a resolution (HCR75) to do so. And, Kentucky U.S. Representative Hal Rogers, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, drafted a letter urging Scott to reconsider axing Florida's prescription drug database.

President Obama’s Drug Czar and former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske will tour Kentucky next week to survey the Commonwealth’s enormous troubles with prescription drug abuse. Representative Rogers said, "I can tell you that he will find that our problems begin in the Sunshine State. I strongly encourage you to see through the implementation of Florida’s PDMP and not turn your back on the coalition of Florida police officers, physicians, pharmacists, treatment professionals, and even legitimate pain management clinics who have fought tirelessly in search of a solution."

The Buckeye State

Many Ohio prescription drug dealers frequent bogus pain clinics in the Florida counties of Palm Beach and Broward. There are more of these pain clinics in Broward County than there are McDonald's restaurants: 115 so-called pill mills, vs. about 70 of the burger franchises. Reports confirm the fact that in the parking lot of the Broward Pain Clinic, there are just as many license plates from Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky as there are from Florida.

The pills are bought by traffickers for resale at a healthy profit on Ohio streets. Cars, buses, and airlines all aid the illicit export of prescription drugs into Appalachian states. 
One 23 year-old man arrested in a pill ring in Tennessee last September said that the pill-seekers were first instructed by the pain clinic to go to an unidentified location, where they paid $150 each for a "fake" MRI as documentation of feigned injury. With the bogus MRI in hand, the addict returned to the clinic, paid another $150 in cash and walked away with a prescription for hundreds of painkillers.

With a prescription, the opiate-based painkillers carried an average price of $5 per pill. The pills were then sold to addicts in East Tennessee for $20 to $25 per pill. (4 to 5 times the cost)

Ohio citizens, especially those in Southern Ohio, must speak out against Governor Scott's decision to do away with the plans for a Florida database. The influx of prescription drugs from Florida serves to cripple the region as do Ohio pill mill operations. I urge state officials to contact Governor Scott and make him acutely aware of the disturbing consequences of his actions.

Also, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske must visit Southern Ohio to view not only the progress already made but also the huge task that lies before us. Please, Mr. Kerlikowske, visit Ohio.

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