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Gov. Rick Scott testifies before Congress on prescription drug abuse crisis

Gov. Rick Scott, whose mantra throughout his campaign and early months in office has been deregulation, called on Congress Thursday to tighten federal restrictions on companies that make and sell addictive prescription drugs.

Scott offered two other surprises: He said a family member had a serious addiction and bragged about Florida's current crackdown on its pain-pill problem — including the drug database he long opposed.

Scott mentioned his addicted relative in a question-and-answer session, without elaboration. He said the unidentified family member was "addicted his whole life — he never beat it." He didn't identify the addictive substance.

Scott made his comments before a hearing on the "growing danger of prescription drug diversion," held by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. His prepared remarks hadn't specifically mentioned tighter federal regulation of drug companies, instead calling for a coordinated effort along the distribution chain.

After describing the severe problems that Florida has had with the overprescribing of narcotics to addicts and drug dealers, Scott answered a question about what Washington could do to help states by replying: "regulating these manufacturers."

"Why are they even able to sell these things?" Scott asked, rhetorically. "Should there be a much more limited use?"

It wasn't a slip of the tongue, because a few minutes later Scott again called for federal regulation: "There ought to be restrictions on what these drugs can be used for, prescribed (for)."

Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack had asked Scott to appear along with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beshear and other Kentucky officials have been sharply critical of Scott's earlier position opposing a prescription drug monitoring program. Scott had said such a database would be an invasion of privacy.

During his prepared remarks, Scott mentioned his concerns, calling the breach of databases a "serious risk" to privacy, since most prescription drug users are law-abiding.

"So, while the database in Florida is brought online, I will continue working with my legislative partners to find solutions that protect patient privacy," Scott said.

Given the tension between the two states, Bono Mack said she expected "sparks" between Beshear and Scott. Instead, all was harmony, as Scott did an about-face.

Without mentioning his earlier opposition, Scott said the drug database will be rolled out after being held up by a "lawsuit," alluding to an appeal by the losing vendor. That case was resolved last week.

That cleared the way for the Department of Health to begin work, which Surgeon General Frank Farmer — a Scott appointee — authorized last Friday.

Scott said Florida will use lessons learned by early-adopter states like Kentucky in building a database that helps prevent "doctor-shopping" by addicts and dealers, while being as secure as possible from hackers.

Scott's change of position mirrored that of state House leaders, who on Tuesday unveiled an 86-page rewrite of an earlier bill that called for the repeal of the drug database and regulations on pain clinics adopted in previous years.

By accepting the database and other regulations, the House made it more likely that its own tweaks to the law will make it through the legislative session, set to end May 6. They would bar doctors from dispensing two categories of controlled substances in their offices and would set up a new permitting process for pharmacies.

In his prepared remarks, Scott called for a coordinated effort to stop the flood of pills throughout the distribution chain. "Together, if we hold the manufacturers, wholesalers, doctors and pharmacies accountable, we can win this fight," he said.

He praised Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's leadership on the issue, and she issued a release returning the favor. She also praised the Legislature for bills pending there, which she said offer "the tools we need to stop pill mills."

Bondi also called for Congress to pass "The Pill Mill Crackdown Act of 2011," by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Bradenton.

Scott's call for tighter regulation didn't specify which manufacturers or drugs he meant.

But his comments came in answers to questions from Bono Mack about the dangers of OxyContin, which she said was the equivalent of "heroin."

Bono Mack complimented Scott for his refusal to accept a $1 million grant from Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, that would have supported development of the drug database.

Scott said the funding would come from other private sources.

Gov. Rick Scott testifies before Congress on prescription drug abuse crisis 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 10:55pm]
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