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Attorney general candidates weigh in on 'pill mills'

TAMPA — On Friday, as a state law that gets tough on pain clinics took effect, one of the bill's co-sponsors stood in front of a Tampa courthouse and said it's not enough.

Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber announced a five-point plan to crack down on doctor-shopping and unscrupulous pain clinics, which he called "dispensaries of death."

"This is really the new drug war in this nation," said Gelber, the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Gelber said he wants to encourage local moratoriums on new pain clinics, push forward a database that would make "doctor shopping" difficult, require pain clinics to be owned by physicians, strengthen prosecutors' tools and increase education.

From 2005 to 2009 in Florida, nearly 6,000 people died ingesting prescription drugs. In the Tampa Bay area, local authorities have raided pain clinics and made several arrests, but clinics are still seeing long lines of people — some who come from out of state because of the lax laws here, authorities say.

"We have become the Costco of prescription drugs," Gelber said of Florida.

Gelber said as attorney general he would make the fight against unnecessary prescribing of drugs a centerpiece of his tenure.

The new law prevents clinics from dispensing more than a three-day supply of drugs to anyone paying by cash or credit card. The clinics must also register with the state and open their doors to inspectors.

Already, the measure has faced opposition — most notably from the National Pain Institute, which sued last week to have it declared unconstitutional.

Gelber said he's afraid the bill will become mired in litigation.

"I understand that aspects of the bill may be burdening people, but we can't just regulate our way out of this problem," he said. "We're going to do it by some fairly draconian rules."

Court proceedings also have slowed the launch of a database that would track the prescriptions written and filled for addictive medications. The company that didn't get the state contract sued, which could delay use of the database for months, Gelber said.

A few hours after Gelber's announcement, the campaign of Republican attorney general nominee Pam Bondi released a statement about Bondi's plans to crack down on "pill mills."

"Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation must be the key components to any strategy our state develops for addressing this problem," Bondi's statement reads. "And I will commit to take a lead on this issue and shut down pill mills as attorney general."

A key part of her plan is for the state to rely on strong relationships with local law enforcement.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Attorney general candidates weigh in on 'pill mills' 10/01/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 10:11pm]
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