TALLAHASSEE — Facing backlash from small pharmacy operators and supporters of a prescription drug monitoring database, Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, on Tuesday unveiled a significant rewrite of his proposal to combat the state's prescription drug abuse epidemic.
His rework of HB 7095 now includes increased penalties for people who prescribe powerful narcotics like OxyContin, Xanax and Vicodin and tools for law enforcement to pursue unscrupulous pain clinic operators, legislation sought by Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Schenck also scaled back a proposal to prohibit small or new pharmacies from dispensing narcotics, and dropped his proposal to eliminate the drug monitoring database. His new plan actually strengthens the database program by requiring data submission within seven days of filling a prescription instead of 15.
The bill also bans wholesale distributors from sending more than 5,000 units of certain drugs each month to retail pharmacies.
In the bill's first hearing at the House Appropriations Committee meeting Tuesday, Schenck still received criticism from retailers for his approach to curb the phenomenon that kills seven people a day in Florida.
"Are there some uncomfortable things in the bill that we may have to do to crack down on this epidemic? Yes," Schenck said. "But if we're not willing to do it for the seven to 10 people who die, who are we willing to do it for?"
A parade of small-town pharmacists — from Live Oak, Lake City, Greenville and elsewhere — testified in opposition to the bill, which only allows community pharmacies majority-owned by a licensed pharmacist, hospice, hospital or nursing home to dispense narcotics.
"You call this the pill mill bill. This is really an anti-small pharmacy bill," said pharmacist Linda Bizeck of Greenville. "It's pretty offensive."
Sally West of the Florida Retail Federation voiced concern with the 5,000-unit-per-month limit on drug distributors that supply pharmacies with drugs.
"Our larger stores would not be able to comply with that," West said.
She also objected to a provision that would make it a first-degree misdemeanor if a store did not obtain a copy of a fraudulent prescription.
But Schenck won accolades from Bondi, who testified in support of the new version of the bill at the committee hearing.
In an interview after the hearing, Bondi said she particularly appreciates that the new bill includes criminal penalties, eases restrictions on small pharmacies and restores the database.
Fighting the pill mills is a top priority for Bondi.
"I didn't realize what a challenge it would be to get tough legislation passed regarding pill mills," she said.
Gov. Rick Scott, who last month launched a statewide "strike force" to take a law enforcement approach to fighting the problem, also applauded Schenck's bill.
"By targeting criminals and the highest levels of the illegal prescription drug distribution chain, protecting law-abiding citizens and aiding law enforcement in the battle against this scourge, the House has brought forth a comprehensive strategy that is a real solution and will provide real results to Floridians," Scott said in a statement.
The committee passed the bill unanimously, 24-0. That's a marked improvement over the reception at its last committee stop, where it received six 'no' votes.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.