Florida's prescription drug monitoring plan likely will not launch by the Dec. 1 deadline set in the law because of a protest filed by a company that lost the bid to set up the electronic database.
The protest may push back the start until January or February of next year, said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the bill creating the program.
Florida is the largest of about a dozen states without a prescription drug monitoring system and has become the epicenter for abusers and dealers of drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax.
Ohio's Optimum Technology Inc. filed the protest, alleging in court documents that the state Health Department's process for scoring the bids was unfair.
State officials would not comment on the bid protest, only confirming that one had been filed. Officials with Optimum did not return a call for comment Monday.
A hearing before an administrative law judge has been set for Sept. 24.
Optimum received the second-highest score of the six companies that submitted bids. The highest score went to Alabama's Health Information Design Inc., which has set up drug monitoring systems in eight states, including Louisiana and Alabama. It has recently won contracts for Maine and Kansas, according to a company spokeswoman.
The drug monitoring law, signed last year, is being touted as a key tool to curbing prescription drug abuse, which is now the No. 1 cause of drug-related deaths in Florida and the United States. It requires pharmacists and doctors to enter information about drugs dispensed to patients into a statewide database. Doctors can then check the database before prescribing or dispensing a drug.
But the program has already been criticized for two loopholes. One is the 15-day window that doctors are given to enter the information, which law enforcement officers say is plenty of time for doctor shoppers to obtain large quantities of drugs before their actions can be detected. Plus, while doctors are required to enter information into the database, they aren't required to check it.
Fasano acknowledges the loopholes, and hopes the state works to close them in the coming years. He called news of the launch delay sad.
Bruce Grant, director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control, which is working with the Health Department on the monitoring program, said the delay makes him "very, very concerned.''
"I see (the monitoring program) as the most effective tool we will have to reduce the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs," he said.
Richard Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330. For the latest in health news, visit tampabay.com/health.