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Future of prescription drug monitoring database headed for legislative battle

TALLAHASSEE — The future of a database to help fight Florida's prescription drug abuse epidemic appears headed for a battle in the state Legislature.

Senate leaders back the database concept.

But after a lengthy presentation Thursday on efforts to battle the drug abuse problem, the chairman of the House's Health and Human Service Committee said he doesn't believe the state should maintain a database tracking who writes prescriptions for such drugs as Xanax and Oxycodone and who gets those prescriptions.

"The database at any point will not solve this problem by itself. I think we can all agree to that. I'm more focused on solving the problem wholly," said Robert Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican. "It is the House goal to come up with a more comprehensive solution."

Such databases, he said, raise privacy concerns and research on their effectiveness is inconclusive.

Studies cited at the hearing concluded that the databases don't necessarily curb deaths from overdoses, and they only minimally reduce consumption.

"This problem is much bigger than a database," Schenck said.

Still, reports presented deem the databases useful for providing policymakers with information "they can use to implement sound, evidence-based prevention strategies" and a "critical tool to address this complex and worsening public health crisis."

Schenck remained unconvinced, indicating he'd like to see more emphasis on stopping the flow of drugs into the clinics rather than out of them.

"It's way too easy to get these drugs," he said.

Florida is the largest state without a prescription drug monitoring program, and there has been pressure to create one.

Florida's program was supposed to launch Dec. 1, 2010, but has been stymied by numerous delays, including two bid protests filed by a company not selected to set up the system.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill to create the database in the summer of 2009. The bill passed after several failed attempts, mainly because it didn't put the state on the hook to pay for it.

A foundation was established to raise money from the private sector to set up and operate the system. State officials also secured grant funding for the program.

But Gov. Rick Scott this month called for repeal of the law that authorized the database, saying it raised privacy concerns.

He has said he supports Attorney General Pam Bondi's efforts to fight the problem. She has made legislative proposals that focus on increased criminal penalties for pill mills and civil penalties for doctors that overprescribe certain drugs, and more enforcement tools for prosecutors.

While Schenck has made it clear he'd like to see the database go, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican from Merritt Island, is adamant it needs to remain and would even like to invest state money into it.

"I think the database is a good idea because people are dying — literally in the streets, in the back of cars, from these drug havens,'' Haridopolos said this week.

Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said after Thursday's presentation that she's undecided on the database.

"We need to look at the potential positive impacts of that and go from there," she said, adding she is confident the committee would come up with a bill that "will make sure that pill mills in Florida are a thing of the past."

Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Future of prescription drug monitoring database headed for legislative battle 02/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 24, 2011 7:45pm]
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