Pubdate: Sat, 29 Oct 2011
Source: Florida Today (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright: 2011 Florida Today


New Law Helps Police Tackle State's Prescription Drug Epidemic

State lawmakers and law enforcement officials are working to change
Florida's reputation as the nation's pill-mill capital for
addictive painkillers like oxycodone.

Pain-management clinics are the main reason for the prescription drug
epidemic that kills roughly seven Floridians a day.

Although the problem has been rampant in South Florida in recent
years, last Tuesday's arrest of an Indialantic doctor, suspected of
being one of the state's most prolific distributors of oxycodone,
shows the Space Coast has not escaped the scourge of pill mills.

But now, as a result of a law passed earlier this year by the state
Legislature, law enforcement officials and the state have the tools
needed to crack down more aggressively on pill mills.

One facet of the law, which took effect in July, bars Florida doctors
from dispensing narcotics and addictive medicines at most offices or

The measure also created a prescription drug-monitoring system,
launched this month, that allows physicians and pharmacists to access
the prescription drug history of patients in Florida.

The database is a much-needed resource that will enable pharmacists to
pull up information on how often a patient is prescribed and sold
these drugs.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, was a staunch
advocate of the drug-monitoring database, which initially was opposed
by House leaders and Gov. Rick Scott. The governor called it a waste
of money and invasion of privacy.

But Bondi and several GOP legislators, including Haridopolos, pushed
for it, and the governor eventually agreed. A group of local law
enforcement agencies agreed to pay for the database out of their
forfeiture funds.

Brevard Sheriff Jack Parker also was a strong proponent of the
database, which has been used in many other states. In a guest column
published in March, he urged the governor to support the idea.

"We need to do everything we can to change his mind. Too many lives
depend on it,"  Parker wrote.

According to the sheriff, during the past five years, nearly 800
people in Brevard have died as a result of prescription drugs, far
more than the number of deaths caused by illegal drugs.

Across Florida, prosecutors have indicted dozens of pill-mill 
operators, and nearly 80 doctors have seen their licenses suspended 
for prescribing mass quantities of pills without clear medical need, 
according to a recent New York Times article.

At the local level, Parker strongly supports law 
enforcement-coordinated events in which unwanted prescription drugs 
are collected. He maintains that removing these pills from homes can 
prevent them being stolen by a family member, visitor or worker in the 
house. It also prevents a young child from accidentally ingesting a drug.

The Brevard Sheriff's Office and local police departments set up 
several drop-off sites in the county in May. In August, the state 
conducted its second annual Prescription Drug Take-Back Day across Florida.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi maintains the program draws 
attention to her war against pill mills.

The Statewide Drug Enforcement Task Force, which Bondi organized, 
reports that progress is being made in the pill-mill fight.

The state law is a critical component in making that battle successful.
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