TALLAHASSEE — Florida's prescription drug tracking system finally was up and running Thursday after overcoming a series of political, legal and financial obstacles.
It's part of the state's effort to crack down on "pill mills" that supply painkillers to drug dealers and addicts, many coming from out of state.
Law enforcement officials say Florida has become the nation's epicenter of prescription drug abuse at least in part because most other states already have monitoring programs.
Florida is the 36th state to create one, and 12 more have enacted legislation to do so, said Rebecca Poston, the system's program director in the Health Department.
It first was hampered by a lack of state funding and was forced to rely, instead, on federal grants and private contributions. Then, it was delayed several months by a contract challenge.
Finally, Gov. Rick Scott tried to kill it with help from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. The Republican governor relented in the face of opposition from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other senators who refused to repeal the 2010 law that created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
Scott had questioned the system's effectiveness and said he was worried it might invade patients' privacy.
The database became operational at midnight, but as of midday Poston wasn't sure if it contained any information. That's because doctors and pharmacists have seven days to submit information on each prescription for drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Valium that contain controlled substances.
The state, though, is asking them to voluntarily file information on prescriptions dating to Dec. 1, 2010, when the law creating the system went into effect.
Also, the department will not begin registering doctors and pharmacists until Oct. 1, and they won't be able to get information out of the database until Oct. 17.