For the second straight year, Florida lawmakers have approved strict new rules for pain clinics, this time limiting the number of pills that can be sold to patients, curbing advertising and imposing tougher standards for doctors and clinic owners.
Lawmakers hope the new rules approved Thursday will cripple South Florida's flourishing pain-clinic industry, the prime source of illegal prescription drugs in the eastern United States. These clinics, which number almost 1,000 statewide, also have been blamed for an epidemic of prescription-pill overdoses in Florida.
Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign the bill, which passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature.
"The crime rate has skyrocketed where these places have sprung up," said Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, a chief sponsor of the reforms in the House. "Hopefully once and for all we'll shut down the Flamingo Express, as it's known in other states."
The measure bans clinics from promoting narcotics in any advertising. The bill also prohibits doctors at these clinics from dispensing more than a 72-hour supply of narcotics to any patient who pays by cash, check or credit card without insurance, and requires increased training for pain-management doctors by 2012.
"Finally they are doing something about this problem," said Dr. Harold Cordner of Sebastian, president of the Florida Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, a group of about 200 pain-management doctors that pushed for the tougher rules. "I think this legislation will set the standard for all other states to follow."
The 72-hour dosage limit is among the strictest in the country. Doctors in New Jersey, for example, may not dispense more than a seven-day supply of medication, and a handful of other states don't allow doctors to dispense any drugs.
The new legislation also requires pain clinics to be either licensed by the state, or owned by a doctor or group of doctors.
The new reforms also will expand the use of a prescription monitoring program scheduled to be in place by the end of the year. The program, approved by lawmakers in 2009, will create a database to track narcotics prescriptions, to prevent patients from getting pills from multiple doctors, a practice known as "doctor shopping."
Under Thursday's bill, the Health Department will be able to pass on to law enforcement agencies any information from the prescription database suggesting illegal drug activity. When the database was first proposed last year, lawmakers omitted a similar proposal because of concerns over patient privacy.
If signed by the governor, the bill will take effect Oct. 1.
Times/Herald staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this story.