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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House committee votes to kill prescription drug monitoring database



With little debate, the House health and human services committee voted to eliminate a controversial prescription drug monitoring database on Thursday. The proposal is a top priority of House Speaker Dean Cannon and Gov. Rick Scott, who say the database doesn't help solve the problem of prescription drug abuse and is an invasion of privacy.

"That database only tracks the problem; it doesn't solve it," said committee chairman Robert Schenck. The database was supposed to be up and running by December of last year, but bid protests delayed its launch. An administrative judge this week resolved the dispute, and the maker of OxyContin offered to donate $1 million over the next two years to pay for the program.

Schenck dismissed that offer from Purdue Pharma, saying it's like the "fox guarding the henhouse."

Before the vote to eliminate the database, the committee passed a bill that would prohibit doctors from prescribing narcotics, making the drugs largely available only at pharmacies. The bill also would eliminate registration and inspection of pain clinics, and a ban on felons owning pain clinics. And it would require wholesale distributors of narcotics to report who they are selling the drugs to so law enforcement officials can identify unusually large purchases. The bill calls for appropriating $1.5 million to track down the large, non-pharmacy dispensaries and return the drugs to wholesalers.

The database and regulations of pain clinics are laws that were passed in recent years by the legislature, but Schenck said there's no evidence those solutions will work.

"I truly we believe we need an approach that stops the supply, not tracks the problem," Schenck said. "This stops the supply before another addict is created."

He also noted that there's no requirement for doctors and prescribers to put information in the database.

"If you're a bad-performing doctor that's operating a pill mill or pain clinic, why would you use the database anyway? It's not like you're on a high moral ground to begin with," he said. The tracking of wholesalers, he said, "will give us a much better picture of where these narcotics are being distributed and given out in an abusive way."

Even supporters of the dispensing ban by doctors expressed concerns that there would be ways around the law if it passes. Some pill mill operators already have pharmacies in their clinics, and others could open pharmacies or create partnerships with existing pharmacies.

Schenck said he understands that the bill may have some flaws.

"Are there other loopholes to game the system that might spring out? Potentially. I am open to closing those," he said.  "It is my absolute intent to stop this practice in the state of Florida."


[Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 2:58pm]


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