While our state has reported a steady decline in illegal drug use over the past few years, we still face a growing problem with prescription drug abuse and trafficking.
In 2009, nearly 2,500 people died in Florida because of prescription drug overdoses, primarily from drugs such as Xanax, Valium and Oxycodone. That represents a 14 percent increase from the number of prescription drug-related deaths in 2008, and is more than double the number of such deaths just seven years ago.
The Florida Legislature has taken action on this issue, enacting tough regulations on so-called pain management clinics, the storefront pill mills that traffic in these deadly drugs and make Florida a key link in the illegal distribution of pills across the southeastern United States. Unfortunately, recent actions of some of our colleagues in the Legislature, as well as our new governor, are undermining Florida's efforts to stem the tide of addiction and death caused by these drugs.
In November, during the special session, the Florida Legislature overrode a veto by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The governor's veto temporarily put an end to a bill that would have required rules created by state agencies to implement laws to be approved by the Legislature. When the veto was overridden, many rules set to go into effect were put on hold.
One of the casualties of the veto override where rules pertaining to the Florida Board of Medicine's ability to put into action certain rules that affect pill mills and pain clinics.
The Florida medical examiner's report states that seven people die each day with a causal relationship to prescription medication. By putting the pill mill rules on hold, the Legislature in essence is allowing unneeded deaths to continue. As of this writing a process to approve those rules still has not been finalized.
With each day that passes, seven more people die because of doctor shopping and the unscrupulous actions of pill mill operators and the doctors who work in them. It is imperative that the Legislature get out of the business of approving rules for bills that it has already approved. In the case of the Board of Medicine's rules, lives are at stake.
In addition to the delay in implementing the tough new regulations on pain clinics, Gov. Rick Scott has eliminated the Office of Drug Control, which has provided important focus on the problem of drug abuse, as well as and coordination between the numerous state agencies affected by this issue.
State agencies across the board — including our courts, law enforcement, prisons, foster care system, health departments, mental health programs and even port security agencies — must deal with the consequences of drug abuse. While these agencies are all affected by drug abuse, it is not the primary focus of any of these agencies.
That's why the work of the Office of Drug Control to coordinate the drug control efforts of each of these agencies was so important, and why we're disappointed to see Gov. Scott unilaterally shut down this agency by laying off its entire staff. It is estimated that each dollar spent on research-based drug prevention saves $10 in upfront treatment costs. With the Office of Drug Control's annual budget (about $551,000) representing less than a one-thousandth of a percent of our state's $70.4 billion budget, any minimal savings that might be realized by eliminating this office will hardly be worth step backward it represents in our battle to stem the loss of lives to drug abuse.
We therefore hope our legislative colleagues and our governor will consider taking immediate action to put our tough new pill mill regulations into action, and put the Office of Drug Control back to work. This issue isn't about bureaucracy or the size of government — it's literally a matter of life and death.