One of the country's largest drug manufacturers is offering a $1 million donation to help pay for a prescription database to combat Florida's illegal trade in painkillers. But with the future of the database now in doubt in Tallahassee, the state is not likely to accept the offer from the maker of OxyContin.
Gov. Rick Scott, who wants to do away with the database altogether, said he's not interested in the money.
Two years ago, the state Legislature overwhelmingly approved the creation of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program to try to curb an epidemic of drug overdoses and narcotics trafficking spawned by storefront pain clinics, most of them in South Florida. The database would allow physicians and investigators to identify "doctor shopping" patients who go from doctor to doctor to obtain prescriptions for potent painkillers such as oxycodone.
When lawmakers approved the prescription database in 2009, they set aside no state money for it. Instead, state officials established a private foundation to receive donations to cover the costs. Through December, the foundation had collected $500,000 in donations, while also qualifying for another $800,000 in federal grants.
But Scott and others in the state capital now want to kill the database, saying it's a needless intrusion on patients' privacy. Scott has already eliminated the office that was raising money for the database.
The threats from Tallahassee prompted Purdue Pharma — the maker of the well-known time-released painkiller containing oxycodone — to offer $1 million to help pay for the database. The money would cover the operating costs of the database for two years.
Alan Must, Purdue Pharma's vice president for government affairs, said Florida's database is needed to prevent pill trafficking nationwide. Florida has become the nation's leader in oxycodone sales, attracting carloads of drug dealers and couriers from Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and other states who come south to buy pills.
"We were so disappointed when we heard that it might go away," Must said. "We want this (database) to happen. It doesn't do us any good to have that illegal business in Florida."
Must said Wednesday he had not yet heard a response to the company's proposal. But Scott told reporters that he didn't want to rely on a short-term grant for fear that the database would require state funding later.
Thirty-four states now have prescription monitoring databases, and nine other states have approved them. Florida is the largest state without such a database.
But some lawmakers believe Florida doesn't need one.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, has backed a bill scrapping the drug database and instead limiting doctors' power to dispense pills from their offices or clinics. Two years ago, the lawmakers in Cannon's chamber approved the database by a vote of 103-10.
Cannon's proposal faces opposition from the Florida Medical Association, many law enforcement agencies and from Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who has vowed to protect the monitoring program.
"People are dying and families are destroyed by this abuse and we must do whatever we can to stop this scourge on our state," Haridopolos said in a written statement praising Purdue Pharma's offer.
The database had cleared another hurdle on Tuesday, when an administrative judge in Tallahassee dismissed a bid protest over the database contract award that had stalled the project since last year. But Scott gave no indication Wednesday that he would allow the state Department of Health to go forward with the software contract.
OxyContin, one of Purdue Pharma's signature drugs, is also among the most vulnerable to abuse. Ten years ago, the Florida Attorney General's Office investigated the company for its aggressive marketing of the painkiller, after a spate overdose deaths involving the drug.
In 2002, the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company agreed to pay $2 million to the state to settle the case. The money was supposed to pay for the cost of creating a prescription monitoring database. But the Legislature failed to approve the database for four years, and the agreement expired, said Jim Heins, Purdue Pharma's senior director of public affairs.
Instead, Heins said, the company donated less than $1 million to train Florida law enforcement officers in prescription diversion.
Times/Herald staff writer Michael C. Bender contributed to this report.