TAMPA — With five months to go until a national drug policy rollout, the Obama administration's drug czar visited a Tampa treatment facility Wednesday to discuss the rising tide of prescription drug abuse.
Gil Kerlikowske said 38 states have some version of Florida's recently passed Prescription Drug Monitoring Law, which will put prescriptions into digital database, making it possible for doctors to identify doctor shoppers and spot doctors who overprescribe narcotics.
"It takes hard work and money to make programs like this work," he said. "But if you compare what it costs to run one of these programs vs. what is already spent on health care related to prescription drug abuse, the benefits are evident."
The 59-year-old former head of Seattle police also served for years in the St. Petersburg Police Department. He was named director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in February.
Tampa was one of the early stops in an 18-city listening tour, said Daren Briscoe, a spokesman for the office.
He toured the DACCO Center for Behavioral Health, a drug treatment, prevention and intervention facility in Tampa, before sitting down with Rep. Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala, one of the prescription law's architects, and with people directly affected by prescription drug abuse.
Prescription drug abusers account for 60 to 66 percent of DACCO's methadone clinic patients, said chief executive officer Mary Lynn Ulrey.
"We see a lot of abuse of the opiates, oxycontin and roxycontin," Ulrey said. "And the benzodiazepines that are being prescribed in pain clinics that are not necessary."
Kerlikowske said the information he received at DACCO will be rolled up into a wider national approach to combating drug abuse.
"It's not just about protecting the shores … or domestic enforcement," he said. "It's about looking at the problem holistically."
Cindy Harney of Sarasota said she was encouraged about the direction of the nation's drug policy after speaking with Kerlikowske Wednesday.
Harney's 20-year-old son, Garrett, died of a painkiller overdose after hernia surgery in 2006. He had previously been in a yearlong rehabilitation for oxycontin abuse.
About 10 people a day die in Florida from prescription drug abuse, she said.
"The federal government should make sure all states have a drug monitoring program," Harney said. "If it was 10 manatees a day that washed up on our shores, everybody would be up in arms."