Aweek after the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly voted to create an electronic monitoring system for prescription drugs, 13 lawmakers wrote the governor seeking a veto.
They said their concern was for Floridians' privacy, citing a recent security breach at a similar prescription database in Virginia. But Gov. Charlie Crist needs to look beyond that security anomaly so Florida can join 32 other states with databases. The state's prescription drug problem is growing and its lax regulation has drawn the equivalent of pharmaceutical tourists from other states with tougher laws. For sure, a database won't solve all the problems in this era in which pharmaceuticals can be found via unregulated Internet providers. But it's a necessary first step toward curbing the abuse.
The database created under Senate Bill 462 would track prescriptions and sales of pharmaceuticals starting in December 2010. Doctors and pharmacists could review a patient's history before writing or filling a prescription — which should curb doctor shopping and attempts to fill prescriptions at multiple pharmacies. State officials expect to receive federal funds to cover the $4 million cost. The measure also would require privately owned pain management clinics to register with the state.
The regulation is needed. Last year, 3,000 people died in Florida from prescription drug overdoses — three times the deaths attributable to illegal drugs. The problem is multifaceted: teens raiding medicine cabinets; those in chronic pain taking too much of their prescription; addicts who doctor shop to secure a new prescription for their next high.
But part of the problem is also Florida's fledgling pill mill industry — so-called pain clinics. In the second half of 2008, the top 50 doctors dispensing the narcotic oxycodone were all in Florida, including 33 in Broward County, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The fallout is seeping across state lines. Florida is the largest of 12 states that hasn't approved a prescription drug monitoring program. Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who is a surgeon, lobbied Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul from afar for a Florida database. The reason: Since his state began its own monitoring program several years ago, several Kentuckians have died from overdoses of Florida prescriptions, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. And in April, the Los Angeles Times detailed how Tennessee — which has a database — has seen an uptick in drug trafficking that originated with prescriptions obtained in Florida.
For years, Florida lawmakers, citing privacy concerns, resisted calls for a database even as 38 states signed on (six states' databases are being developed). And on the same day the Florida House approved the bill, a hacker threatened to expose the confidential records in Virginia's database unless he was paid $10 million. So far, the threat hasn't been carried out, nor has the hacker been caught.
The 13 House members who wrote Crist on May 7 cited the Virginia incident. But a veto would be a knee-jerk reaction that would only embolden the state's fledgling pill mill industry. For sure, security is a concern any time government collects private information on individuals. And safeguards are needed to protect privacy, particularly that of patients who have valid prescriptions. But Florida has a horrendous prescription drug problem that is costing lives and destroying families across state lines. The database would allow the overwhelming ranks of law-abiding doctors and pharmacists to play a role in attacking the problem. That is in the state's best interest.