By GARY FINEOUT
The News Service Of Florida
TALLAHASSEE – Florida will join 38 other states that have created prescription drug monitoring systems under a bill quietly signed into law today by Gov. Charlie Crist. But it will likely be months before the drug database becomes a reality: First the Department of Health must seek private and federal grants to pay the millions of dollars needed to design and create the tracking system, which some critics contend won’t go far enough to battle the growing problem of prescription drug fraud in Florida.
South Florida has become a haven for so-called pill mills where people from across the country have been able to get prescription painkillers such as Oxycodone. The increased scrutiny over Florida’s reputation persuaded lawmakers to create a tracking system, more than seven years after former Gov. Jeb Bush first called for its creation. “It has become an epidemic,” said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the main sponsors of the drug monitoring bill. “This all must end. This has to be stopped. Florida can no longer be looked at as the pill mill state of the nation.” National drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske in May even cited the legislation, saying he hoped it would be enacted because prescription drug fraud was an “acute problem” in Florida.
The new law requires that Florida track prescriptions of controlled substances designated as Schedule II, III and IV drugs, which includes drugs such as codeine, methadone, amphetamines, anabolic steroids and Ketamine. The legislation pushed by Fasano was backed by a large swath of lawmakers from both parties, but not everyone embraced the bill. A group of top House Republicans – including House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, Rep. David Rivera and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon – wrote a letter to Crist urging that he veto the bill.
Those Republicans, echoing past criticisms, said they were concerned that sensitive information would wind up in the hands of criminals and terrorists. They cited an incident in Virginia in which hackers reportedly broke into a database in that state. Fasano brushed aside those criticisms, pointing out that the state is enacting public records exemptions for the database. He also noted that insurance companies and pharmacists already track what drugs patients are receiving.
But Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, contends the bill may do little to prevent drug abuse because the new law gives physicians, health care providers and pharmacists up to 15 days to report that certain drugs were dispensed to a patient. “I think there are ways to reduce drug deaths,” said Domino, who sponsored a rival drug monitoring bill that went nowhere during this spring’s session. “This bill doesn’t stop it any way that I can see. … No one can point to me how it will stop a kid getting a prescription down the street 10 minutes later.” House sponsor Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami, said the 15-day deadline was placed into law to give flexibility to health care providers. He said many providers will be able to provide the information on a much quicker basis.
“I adamantly believe this bill will save thousands of lives on annual basis,” Llorente said. But first state officials have to create the database. And before that happens, the state will set up a task force to oversee the creation of the tracking system and create an organization to accept grants to help pay for the system.