TALLAHASSEE — As the federal government embarks on a national plan for fighting prescription drug abuse, Florida lawmakers are set to vote today on a House bill to address the problem.
But criticism has plagued HB 7095, sponsored by Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill.
The latest attacks come from those who say the bill limits funding options for the state's soon-to-launch prescription drug-monitoring database and restricts wholesale distribution of narcotics to 5,000 doses per month per pharmacy.
Schenck originally called for repealing the database altogether, but a rewrite of the bill left the program in place. It also leaves in place a ban on using state money to run the database.
Lawmakers authorized the program in 2009, but required that all financial support come from donations and grants.
A bill sponsored this year in the Senate by Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, repeals the state funding ban and requires that the program be able to interface with other states' databases so it can receive certain federal grants.
Schenck's bill contains no similar provisions, and prohibits pharmaceutical companies from contributing to a foundation that raises money for the database. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, one of the most popular drugs of abuse, has offered to contribute more than $1 million to support the database, which will cost about $500,000 a year to run.
Under Schenck's bill, such a donation would be unacceptable.
"There's a fundamental flaw in trying to raise money from the manufacturers that make these drugs that lead to the epidemic," Schenck said in an interview Wednesday. "I'm not trying to accuse anybody of nefarious acts. I just think there should be a line of separation."
There's not much of a line of separation between pharmaceutical companies and Florida Republicans.
The industry contributed at least $1.4 million to candidates, parties and committees in the 2010 election cycle. Of that, nearly $380,000 went to the Republican Party of Florida; $7,500 went to House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park; and Schenck received $1,500.
Rodman Steele, treasurer of Florida's prescription drug monitoring database foundation, said cutting out the pharmaceutical companies will severely hurt fundraising opportunities. Those companies, he said, are a group the foundation had hoped to target.
Sharon Kelley, who serves on the foundation board, wonders where Schenck thinks the money for the program should come from.
So far, the foundation has raised $500,000 from private sources. A nonprofit donated $50,000 to the program and $800,000 has come through two federal grants.
Kelley said she doesn't understand Schenck's rationale for rejecting the pharmaceutical company money.
Operators of community pharmacies also object to Schenck's bill because it generally allows only large pharmacies to dispense the medications.
Schenck has said his goal with the provision is to prevent so-called "pill mills" from opening pharmacies to get around the bill's ban on physician dispensing.
But Paul Sloan, a Venice-based pain clinic owner and president of the Florida Society of Pain Management, said that section of the bill is a gift to chain drugstores.
"This is about one group of pharmacies trying to control a market. This is a special-interest bill," Sloan said.
Sloan also said the 5,000 dosage limit is too low, and will make it difficult for pharmacies to supply pain medication to people who legitimately need it.
"It's a number pulled out of a hat by politicians who have no clue what they're doing," he said.
That, combined with fewer pharmacies dispensing the medications, will create a "health care crisis" for people experiencing chronic pain, he said.
Aware of such criticism, Schenck on Wednesday amended his bill to require the Department of Health to complete a survey early next year of the average doses delivered to pharmacies in other states. If Florida's 5,000-dosage limit seems too low, he said, it can be changed.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.