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Activists decry Gov.-elect Rick Scott's plan to close Office of Drug Control

Lynn Locascio voted for Rick Scott.

But when she learned he plans to close the governor's Office of Drug Control, she started writing letters to everyone she knows. Locascio of Crystal Beach has a 26-year-old son who was severely addicted to Vicodin and Oxycontin. Five years ago, he overdosed twice, went to jail and came out clean a year later.

Ever since, Locascio, 53, has worked with other parents, drug abuse agencies and even the Office of Drug Control to bring awareness to the prescription drug problem.

"We are the pill capital of the U.S., and this jerk comes in and snaps his fingers and dumps the program we need?" she said angrily Thursday.

Gov.-elect Scott's decision to close the governor's drug control office has many people concerned that Florida will move backward in its efforts to stave off drug addiction. With prescription drug deaths on the rise, they worry that shutting the office and shifting its duties to other busy agencies will dilute its effectiveness.

"We've all experienced what happens when tasks are 'reassigned' to others who lack the same training and experience," said Sharon Kelley, chief executive of Associates in Emergency Medical Education Inc. She is also a member of a foundation that has raised funds for a prescription drug monitoring system in Florida.

Brian Burgess, Scott's spokesman, insisted the work of the drug control office would not go away. He said drug abuse monitoring is a team effort — not just the work of one four-member office.

"We are very confident that the function of that office can be absorbed and handled by health-care agencies and law enforcement agencies that handle those issues," he said.

But local drug prevention organizations wondered who they would rely on now for grant assistance, guidance and statistics.

The Office of Drug Control performs an annual drug survey. In Hillsborough County, for example, this year's survey showed 22 percent of high school students had used marijuana in the last 30 days, an uptick from previous years.

"We got that information a week ago," said Ellen Snelling, a board member for the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, "and now we're talking among some of us about forming a marijuana task force."

Perhaps the state office's most visible work has involved a prescription drug monitoring program, which has yet to be implemented.

Bruce D. Grant, director of the Office of Drug Control, said there is no state funding for the program. A bid was just awarded two days ago to get it started.

"My office raised over $800,000 in federal grants and $500,000 through a private nonprofit organization, which at this point may fall apart without our leadership," Grant said.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, sent a text to Scott, asking him to reconsider his decision to eliminate the office. By Thursday afternoon, Fasano hadn't heard from him.

But Locascio, who leads a group called Parents Against Prescription Drug Addiction, said she can't believe Scott plans to shut the office down without offering another plan.

"Tell Gov. Scott there are a lot of people in this world who voted for him and care about this issue," she said, "and he has to give us an alternative."

Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

Deep-rooted problem

To read more about

Florida's prescription drug abuse problem, go to www.tampabay.com/

prescription-drugs.

Activists decry Gov.-elect Rick Scott's plan to close Office of Drug Control 12/23/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 23, 2010 8:54pm]
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