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New restrictions targeting pill mills take effect Friday

For state Rep. Robert Schenck, the goal is lofty, yet simple. He wants Florida to go from being the easiest place to obtain and abuse prescription drugs to the hardest.

And he says a law that takes effect today helps do that.

The sweeping measure forbids doctors in most settings from dispensing addictive pain medications, requires them to use counterfeit-proof prescription pads, imposes new requirements for registering pain clinics and allows the state to keep track of the type and quantity of drugs that pharmacies buy from wholesale distributors.

"Everybody recognizes the epidemic we face. It affects every part of our society, and it was time to take a stand," said Schenck, a Republican from Spring Hill who sponsored the bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.

The measure is among a handful of health-related laws that take effect today. Among the others:

• Doctors can no longer ask patients whether they own firearms or ammunition, unless the information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety.

• Doctors must perform an ultrasound exam on a woman before an abortion. The woman also must be offered an opportunity to view the ultrasound images and have an explanation given, with certain exceptions.

• Urgent care clinics are required to display the prices of the 50 most common services provided for patients who pay by cash or credit or debit card.

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and doctors agree the most significant of the new health laws is the one that takes aim at a problem that kills an average of seven Floridians a day.

Schenck said the centerpiece of the prescription drug law is the provision that forbids doctors from dispensing pain medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and Vicodin. He noted that of all the oxycodone that is dispensed by physicians in the United States, 85 percent is dispensed by Florida doctors.

That, many say, has earned Florida the dubious distinction of being nation's "pill mill capital."

But while the provision is targeted primarily at pill mills, it also affects just about any doctor who dispenses drugs classified by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as Schedule II or III, meaning they have some accepted medical use, but high potential for abuse.

More than 130 drugs are listed as Schedule II or III. They include the Schedule III drug phendimetrazine — commonly known by the brand name Bontril — an amphetaminelike appetite suppressant that is prescribed and dispensed to patients at weight-loss clinics.

Dr. Larry Vickman of Inches and Pounds of Tampa Bay said the drug can be an effective tool for weight loss. He said some weight-loss clinics prescribe and dispense it more than others.

Vickman said he more commonly prescribes another appetite suppressant, phentermine, which is not affected by the new law.

Doctors are also required to get rid of any remaining supplies of the drugs, either by returning them to the supplier or turning them over to a local law enforcement agency, by July 11.

The law has a few exceptions. The dispensing ban does not apply to doctors working in settings such as the Department of Corrections or hospice facilities.

But the ban is purposely broad, said Schenck. He said including all Schedule II and III drugs will make it less likely for people to find loopholes in the law.

"We're at war with this epidemic," he said. "And this was the only way to ensure there would be no loopholes."

Schenck noted that the law doesn't prevent legitimate patients from obtaining needed drugs. They'll just have to go to a pharmacy to get them.

Sgt. Dan Zsido of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's strategic diversion task force said the law gives people like him better tools.

In particular, he praised another provision of the law that pertains to the state's prescription drug monitoring program, which is expected to launch in the coming months. The provision reduces the window of time that pharmacists have to enter information into a statewide database, from 15 days to seven days.

That, Zsido said, will make it more difficult for people to fill pain medication prescriptions at multiple pharmacies.

"It's a step in the right direction," Zsido said.

Richard Martin can be reached at rmartin@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3322.

Slew of new laws take effect today

About 160 statutes will go on the books today, the beginning of a new fiscal year. Among them:

>> State and local workers, including teachers, are required to contribute 3 percent of their wages to the Florida Retirement System.

>> Welfare applicants must take drug tests at their own expense. If they pass, they'll get reimbursed. If they fail, they can't get benefits for at least a year and could face child abuse charges.

>> A ban on the sale and possession of a designer drug known as MDPV, which is sold as bath salts.

>> An education overhaul that changes how teachers are evaluated and will eventually alter how they are hired, fired and paid.

>> The state's existing school voucher program that lets disabled students attend private schools at taxpayer expense will be expanded to children with lesser afflictions such as allergies, asthma and diabetes.

>> The Department of Education will expand online learning options and require students who enter high school this fall to take at least one virtual course before they graduate.

>> In an effort to prohibit students from wearing "droopy drawers," school districts are required to pass dress codes that prohibit the wearing of clothing in a revealing or disruptive way.

New restrictions targeting pill mills take effect Friday 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 11:58pm]

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