A much-touted monitoring program aimed at fighting a prescription drug epidemic that kills seven people a day in Florida has been delayed yet again by an Ohio company that wants to run the operation.
Created by a law passed in 2009, the plan to require pharmacists and physicians to tell the state when they dispense certain drugs should have started last month.
Now it's expected to open for business in late spring or summer — at the soonest.
Florida, one of the few states without such a program, has become a haven for those seeking large quantities of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax.
A database that keeps drug shoppers from filling prescriptions at multiple outlets would be "the most effective tool Florida has to fight prescription drug diversion and abuse," said Bruce Grant, director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control, on Monday. It was his last day in the post — incoming governor Rick Scott has eliminated the office.
"Certainly, it is disappointing to see the delays," Grant said.
The latest bid protest was lodged last week — the same week that a Tampa police investigation revealed that a single pain clinic doctor prescribed more than 1 million oxycodone pills over a three-month period at one clinic.
But the delays began in September, when Ohio-based Optimum Technology Inc. filed its first protest over the state contract. The company had received the second-highest score out of six companies submitting bids; the highest score went to Health Information Design Inc., based in Alabama, which runs monitoring programs in 10 other states.
Grant said Optimum claimed that the request for proposal from the state wasn't clear, and the state Department of Health agreed. So before the protest was heard by an administrative law judge, the health department decided to reject all bids and start the process over.
But last week, Optimum finished second again to Health Information Design, and the company quickly filed another protest. State officials would not discuss specifics of the protest.
Messages left for Optimum Technology officials were not returned Monday.
Grant expects the bid protest to be heard by an administrative law judge within 30 days. Once the judge has ruled, another protest cannot be filed, he said.
Health Information Design Inc. would not comment on the latest bid protest, but spokeswoman Susan Fillippeli says it remains interested in setting up Florida's plan.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the bill creating the program, said Monday that while Optimum Technology is allowed due process, "their objections continue to hold up a very needed and necessary monitoring system that could save lives."
Richard Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.