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Philosophical Fight Continues Over Drug Database in Florida

Philosophical Fight Continues Over Drug Database [Tampa Tribune, Fla.]

From Tampa Tribune (FL) (April 2, 2011)

April 02--Florida lawmakers continue to agree that stemming the illicit flow of painkillers and shutting down clinics doling out massive prescriptions is a top priority. The Legislature remains sharply divided, though, over a key element -- whether the state needs a database that would track where, how often and to whom painkillers are prescribed.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would repeal the pill monitoring program. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, has cleared reviews by the appropriate committees and is now heading to the House floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, modifications to a Senate bill that backs the database are being reviewed by the criminal justice committee before that legislation comes up for votes.

The amendment sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Ft. Lauderdale, if approved, will require health officials to get a subpoena to review a patient's prescription history.

A majority of senators, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, support the monitoring program. But the amendment requiring subpoenas would only slow down authorities trying to identify drug abusers, doctor shoppers and drug dealers, said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Although the House bill is heading for a vote, no one in Tallahassee knows when that will happen.

"Any time between now and May 6," said Greg Giordano, Fasano's chief legislative aide.

The fate of the prescription drug monitoring program is tied to the opposing bills, which tackle the state's painkiller epidemic in vastly different ways.

Fasano's bill toughens up current regulations on the ownership and operation of pain management clinics and would require medical professionals to take classes on how to use the database.

"We really go after the unscrupulous characters," Fasano said. "This would enhance the penalties on those who violate the laws when it comes to prescribing medicine."

The bill passing through the House would require prescription drug manufacturers to report to the state where they sell pills in bulk. The House bill, championed by House Speaker Dean Cannon, seeks to prohibit doctors from prescribing painkillers. All patients would have to get prescriptions from pharmacies.

The House bill "takes care of the front-end problem" of shady physicians prescribing large doses, "without interfering with anyone's privacy," said Ryan Anderson, Schenck's chief legislative aide.

Patients' privacy is a concern for Gov. Rick Scott, who favors repealing the drug tracking program. At a press conference this week announcing the creation of a statewide strike force targeting so-called pill mills, Scott stood firm on the privacy issue.

Bruce Grant, the former director of the state Office of Drug Control, said repealing the database would be a mistake.

"We have nothing to replace it," said Grant, whose office was closed by Scott when the governor took office in January. "We took great pains to address the privacy concerns. Any unauthorized disclosure of patient information is a felony."

Florida's lack of a monitoring program makes it a destination for "drug tourists" to visit, obtain large prescriptions and head back to their home states to sell the pills, Grant said.

Scott said 96 of the nation's top 100 oxycodone prescribers are located in Florida, and the centers of the trade are Miami, Orlando and the Tampa Bay area.

Kentucky lawmakers, who say their state has been hard-hit by the millions of pills coming out of Florida are calling for Scott to support the database.

"Now is not the time to back down from this life or death challenge," U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said in a letter to Scott. "On behalf of my constituents, who continue to suffer from out-of-control and escalating prescription drug diversion originating from your state, I respectfully ask that you reverse your position."

The Legislature authorized the tracking system in 2009 but appropriated no money for it. A foundation was created to seek donations and federal grants. Since then, $1.3 million has been donated and the company that makes Oxycontin pledged an additional $1 million to the database.

Getting the system online would cost $1.2 million the first year and $500,000 annually to keep it running. Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma LP will provide $500,000 a year for two years.

The system was originally set to launch in December but has been on hold because of protests during the bid process.

Grant said if the program doesn't get repealed, the database could launch by June.

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Posted: April 2011