In a move that surprised officials in multiple states, Florida Governor Rick Scott proposed eliminating a long-awaited “pill mill” database designed to combat prescription drug abuse, The Orlando Sentinel reported Feb. 8.
A 2009 law passed by the Florida legislature required the creation of the database to reign in “rogue pain clinics,” or “pill mills.” Overdoses on illegal narcotic pills kill about seven people a day in Florida, and the pill mills are the primary source of the drugs.
The database, scheduled to go into operation Dec. 1 but delayed by a contracting dispute, would help crack down on pill mills. Doctors and pharmacies would have to log all prescription drugs sold, making it easier to identify customers trying to fill prescriptions multiple times at different locations to obtain large quantities of pain medications and other controlled substances.
Similar databases are already used in 42 states.
“That program has not been working,” Scott said. “I’m working with Attorney General [Pam] Bondi to make sure that we deal with the issue that we have, and I’m working with her to make sure that we deal with this issue that we have with pill mills.”
His plan to eliminate the database surprised legislators, law enforcement, and other supporters. Although Scott is proposing to cut state spending by over $5 billion, the database is not funded with tax dollars, but with over $500,000 already raised from drug manufacturers, foundations and federal grants.
A spokeswoman said that Scott “did not think the database was a function best performed by government,” according to the Sentinel.
Al Lamberti, sheriff of Broward County, told the governor in a recent meeting that the database was essential, and he thought the governor supported the idea.
“I’m very surprised,” Lamberti said. “I stressed that to him, that we really need it as a deterrent. It’s no wonder we’re ground zero for this stuff. We don’t have a deterrent in place.”
“It’s just bizarre,” said Paul Sloan, the president of the Florida Society of Pain Management Providers. “There’s nobody in the field of medicine trying to kill it. It’s the best thing the state has done on pill mills.”
A few weeks ago, Scott also cut the state office of drug control, a primary proponent for the database.
State Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), who sponsored the 2009 law establishing the database, said, “It is beyond my comprehension why the governor would propose the total elimination of the two entities that have been, and have the potential to be, the best tools this state will have in fighting prescription drug abuse.”
It is now up to Florida lawmakers whether or not to accept Scott’s proposal.
Officials in West Virginia and Kentucky expressed surprise and outrage about Scott’s proposal. Both states track prescription drugs, and both report that large numbers of residents travel to Florida to acquire the drugs illegally.
“Everyone up here, law enforcement, feels like we’ve been kicked in the teeth,” Frank Rapier told the Washington Post Feb. 11. Rapier directs the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in London, Ky. “To take a step back like this is incredible.”
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) said he was infuriated by the proposal. “What they’re doing by this is basically setting up billboards across the country saying, ’Come to Florida and get your drugs,’ ” he said. “Unfortunately, the end result is people dying.”
Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, told the Charleston Gazette Feb. 12 that a pill mill database in Florida would help states like Ohio and Tennessee, as well as Kentucky and West Virginia. He said that if the Florida legislature accepts Scott’s proposal and eliminates the database, the states will “reap a bitter harvest of addiction and overdose.”
“If Florida doesn’t establish a prescription drug monitoring program, more Floridians will die from overdoses, but the stakes are even higher than that,” he said. “Diverted pain medication from Florida is abused all over Appalachia. This is a national issue — and Florida has national obligations.”