When Gov. Rick Scott says he wants Florida open for business, who knew that he also meant the deadly pill mills that have ruined so many lives?
Scott’s move to scrap a prescription narcotic database intended to temper the excesses of South Florida’s rogue pain clinics makes no sense.
Unless the governor somehow likes the drug tourism, overdoses and other human wreckage spawned by our pill-friendly culture. Prescription drug abuse is blamed for an estimated seven deaths a day in Florida.
The database can help law enforcement, pharmacists and health officials pinpoint patients who abuse or traffic in powerful pills like oxycodone by getting multiple prescriptions in a short timeframe, a practice known as doctor-shopping.
The Legislature approved the database in 2009, with private grants paying for it.
It was supposed to launch last December, but has been delayed by a dispute involving a contractor who didn’t win the bid.
Forty-two other states have databases.
Now along comes Scott, who took office last month, trying to scuttle Florida’s database before it begins.
And in the cryptic style that’s becoming his trademark, the public can’t get a detailed answer about his rationale.
Last Tuesday, Scott told reporters, “That program has not been working.”
Huh? The program hasn’t even started. He went on to say he was working with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to deal with the pill-mill issue. He didn’t get into specifics.
That was after his spokeswoman said Scott didn’t think the database was a function best performed by government.
Say what? If it’s not government’s role to monitor controlled substances, then why bother monitoring anything? Let’s just do away with driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and concealed weapons permits too, since cars and guns are legal.
The database had support from just about everyone — legislators, law enforcement, responsible doctors and pharmacists and legitimate pain clinics.
And it’s not like it would cost taxpayers anything, since the money is supposed to come from private sources.
Scott baffled everyone with his request to repeal the database, filed in documents with his proposed budget. It follows his decision last month to abolish the office of drug control, whose chief was spearheading the database efforts.
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, who saw Scott a few days earlier and emphasized the importance of the database, said he was “very surprised.”
Pain clinics have mushroomed across South Florida in the last decade, with many dispensing prescriptions and drugs to cash-paying customers after cursory exams.
Some customers — known as pillbillies — travel from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Some Broward and Palm Beach County cities, tired of complaints about the clientele, have put moratoriums on new pain clinics. I know a beauty salon owner who recently moved because she no longer felt safe in a Hollywood strip mall she shared with a pain clinic. Tamarac is trying to shut a pharmacy that has dispensed more than 2.8 million oxycodone pills in two years.
Broward Sheriff’s Office Tamarac district chief Marc Duguay said it’s a public safety issue, even though the pharmacy is not doing anything illegal.
“Tallahassee needs to do something,” Duguay said.
But the governor fiddles while the pill epidemic rages on.
It wasn’t a banner week for Rookie Rick. He played accounting games with his budget numbers, trumpeting a $5 billion reduction while conveniently lopping off hefty items that still exist, like university tuition and court administration fees.
He backed off his ambitious plan to expand private-school vouchers, finally acknowledging it wouldn’t be legal without changing the state constitution.
And he ticked off state workers with proposed job cuts and a pension revamp that would cut into their paychecks, while giving big tax cuts to … wait for it … corporations.
Of all the inscrutable things Scott has done, the database stance is hardest to swallow.
The governor needs to explain himself better.
And if Scott’s notion of hands-off government precludes common-sense measures like a narcotics database, it might be time for all of us Floridians to reach for a prescription pad and some pills. This could be a long four years.