Proposed Federal Bill Supports Pill Mill Databases

A Florida congressman has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives intended to curb prescription drug abuse and eliminate pain clinics that illegally dispense narcotic pain medications, even as legislators in his home state fight over a similar initiative, the Orlando Sentinel reported March 14.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota) introduced “The Pill Mill Crackdown Act of 2011.” Among other things, it triples the fines for pill mill operators from $1 million to $3 million, and possible federal prison sentences from 10 years to 20.  It would also make drugs like Vicodin and Lortab more difficult to prescribe or obtain by reclassifying them as Schedule II drugs.

“Something needs to be done,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park). “Florida seems to be spiraling out of control. We've been cited for being one of the worst states for prescription drug abuse. It's a very serious problem.”

Buchanan's bill would also support state prescription drug monitoring databases, which have become a source of contention in his home state. Although over 30 states already have such databases in place, Florida does not.

Florida legislators voted to create a privately-funded state database in 2009. However, new governor Rick Scott is opposed to the database because he fears the state will eventually have to pick up the tab, and he believes that it would unnecessarily impinge on patient privacy, the Miami Herald reported March 14.

The Health and Human Services Committee in Florida's House sided with the governor on March 10, WCTV reported, when the committee voted to eliminate the state's pill mill database as well as the regulations governing pain clinics. It proposed instead that doctors be prohibited from dispensing drugs in their offices.

Bruce Grant, who directed the state's Office of Drug Control until it was eliminated last year by Governor Scott, opposed the bill. “The problem is the pill mills are not legitimate medical practices,'' he said. “They are criminal enterprises.''

According to Grant, if the House bill passes, pain clinics would no longer be registered or inspected, and felons would no longer be blocked from owning them.

Rob Schenck (R-Spring Hill), who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, defended the proposed bill. He said pain clinics would not need to be regulated if doctors could not prescribe directly to patients, which he compared to chopping “the head off the snake.” He said the prescription drug monitoring program would track the problem, but wouldn't eliminate it.

But Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) pointed to the 34 other states that already have monitoring programs in place. “That is why people come here for their drugs,” he said. The state's Senate Health Regulation Committee, which he chairs, is moving legislation forward that would keep the database.

Attorney General Pam Bondi testified in support of the Senate bill. “Drug dealers are flying to Florida now to buy these drugs and take them back to other states,” she said.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Sarasota was surprised by legislative opposition to the database. “I can't believe we've had as many problems getting this through as we've had,” he said. “I keep asking myself, 'Why?'”

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