Pubdate: Sun, 04 Jan 2004
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2004 The Miami Herald
Author: Marc Caputo, of the Herald
Bookmark: ( Chronic Pain )


As Talk Host Rush Limbaugh Is Investigated on Suspicion He Illegally
Used Prescription Pills, Lawmakers Plan a Tracking System to Cut Down
on Prescription Abuse

In just six months, radio host Rush Limbaugh received 1,900
prescription pills from four different physicians in what South
Florida investigators suspect was a classic case of illegal

Limbaugh became the highest-profile pain-pill user under criminal
investigation when his addiction was disclosed this fall. But his case
- - right down to the staggering number of pills - is far from unique.

Statewide, investigators are trying to determine who's illegally
using, distributing and writing prescriptions, which are implicated in
the overdose deaths of five Floridians a day. Those investigations
might have been easier if not for some of Limbaugh's biggest fans -
conservative lawmakers in the Florida House of Representatives.

The GOP-controlled House has twice killed a proposal to create a
statewide database to track prescription abuse. Were it up and
running, investigators could type a computer query to find suspicious
patterns of doctors writing prescriptions, patients receiving them or
pharmacies filling them.

But to Republicans like House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, it sounded like
too much big government invading people's privacy. So the bill never
made it to the governor, even though it has twice passed out of the
Senate, which is controlled by more moderate Republicans.

This year, the proposal is back and Byrd has agreed to support it.
Senate sponsor Mike Fasano said the bill, which will be debated
Tuesday in a Senate committee, has new confidentiality requirements to
satisfy Byrd.

Fasano said the system should accomplish the ultimate goal: cracking
down on addiction and drug pushers.

"I don't know the specifics of Rush Limbaugh's case, but if the House
had passed this bill, it would never have gotten to this point. It
would have stopped doctor-shopping," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

"One doctor could have stopped this immediately, and the pharmacist
as well. They could have seen that whatever was being taken was being
over-prescribed. They could have called the authorities then and there."

Reporting Required

Under the proposal, a doctor would be required to submit data to the
Florida Department of Health concerning a patient, his prescription
and the amount. When the prescription was filled, the pharmacist would
be supposed to transmit the information within 35 days, by either
e-mail or regular mail.

If the doctor or pharmacist accessed the confidential $2 million Web-
based database and noticed something suspicious with the
prescriptions, he could contact police. Investigators could look at
the information only if they had an active investigation. Any
unauthorized use of the database would be a third-degree felony --
just as doctor-shopping is.

Byrd said he wants to discard the system in two years if the
Legislature doesn't renew it. This would show if the system actually
works without invading people's privacy for too long.

The bill carries a handful of reporting exemptions for doctors
treating children under age 16 and for hospitals and other care
centers distributing prescriptions to in-house patients.

"Last year a significant number of the members expressed concerns
over the invasion-of-privacy aspects of the proposal . . . ," Byrd
said in an e-mail. "I believe that assurances that the legislation
will have safeguards regarding privacy, and that cost estimates for
the system are reasonable and containable, should make the bill more
palatable to the members."

Byrd said he hopes the bill passes because of the "menacing problem
for our society."

Limbaugh, who has repeatedly told his 20 million listeners that drug
users should be incarcerated, admitted his addiction and sought
treatment after the National Enquirer broke the story in October.

His attorney, Roy Black, said in court that his client committed no
crime and was prescribed the pills for legitimate reasons. Black
persuaded a judge to seal Limbaugh's medical records, which
prosecutors want to examine. Black couldn't be reached for comment.

Radio Campaign

Limbaugh, who hasn't been charged with a crime, initially promised to
cooperate with prosecutors, but has begun using his radio program on
600 stations to accuse the Democratic state attorney, Barry Krischer,
of unfairly singling him out.

Florida's drug czar, Jim McDonough, said law enforcement sources have
told him that Limbaugh was receiving prescriptions from his doctors
and from an illegal pharmacy in Lake Worth. McDonough said the alleged
transactions from the illegal pill mill would not have shown up on the
proposed database because they would not have been reported.

But Limbaugh's trips to pharmacies near his Palm Beach mansion would
have been available - and would have shown something was amiss,
McDonough said.

According to a Nov. 15 warrant to search the offices of Limbaugh's
four doctors, he was prescribed 1,733 hydrocodone pills, 90 OxyContin
pills, 50 anti-anxiety Xanax tablets and 40 pills of a time-release
morphine called Kadian from March to September.

Those numbers stun McDonough, who says such quantities could have
killed the average person.

"He's lucky he's still alive. If the system was up and running, it
would have served to give him a warning and his doctors a warning,"
McDonough said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake