TALLAHASSEE — With a nearly unanimous vote, the House of Representatives on Thursday approved a sweeping bill to combat Florida's prescription drug abuse epidemic.
"This bill is perhaps, perhaps, even bigger than job creation," said Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey. "We will not let a handful of drug dealers bring our people to their knees."
Among other things, HB 7095, led by Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, expands penalties for pill mill operators, requires reporting narcotics prescriptions to a state database in seven days instead of 15, prohibits doctors and some small pharmacies from dispensing narcotics, requires tracking wholesale distributors of narcotics and limits distribution to 5,000 doses per month per pharmacy.
Schenck said the bill makes Florida the toughest state in the country to obtain powerfully addictive painkillers.
Prescription drug abuse has become a nationwide problem that has its epicenter in Florida. Lawmakers throughout the country have been pressuring the state to take steps to keep people from traveling to Florida to buy readily available narcotics for illegal use.
The bill has critics.
Community pharmacy owners say it will hurt their businesses and supporters of the prescription drug database don't like that it provides no expanded funding for the program. Other say it will keep people with real chronic pain from getting what they need.
But Democrats and Republicans alike said the bill is essential.
"This bill has come a long way from when it first presented itself to us," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "And while it doesn't go as far as some of us would like or it stops short of where some of us would want it to be, it represents a compromise. It represents the fact that we must attack this problem at all levels, in all ways."
As originally crafted, the bill called for repeal of the prescription drug monitoring database, prohibited nearly all small pharmacies from dispensing narcotics, and didn't include measures requested by Attorney General Pam Bondi to make it easier to pursue and penalize pill mill operators.
Schenck made significant changes to the bill over the weeks to garner support. Among other things, he added provisions that Bondi considered a priority.
"Today, we are one step closer to giving law enforcement and regulators the tools they need to combat pill mills and prescription drug abuse in Florida," she said after the House passed the bill by a vote of 116 to 1.
Only Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne, voted against it.
Before the vote, some lawmakers, including Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, shared stories of friends and family members addicted to prescription drugs.
"I've had many sleepless nights," Glorioso said. "My wife and I have cried together."
He acknowledged the legislation may have flaws. "But this bill will do great, great things to protect our young kids," he said.
A Senate bill sponsored by Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, creates funding options for the prescription drug monitoring database. Current law prohibits using state money to support it.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.