It's good that someone in Tallahassee understands that Florida's war on drug abuse requires a sustained commitment. Attorney General Pam Bondi has ensured that the state's prescription drug monitoring program, which helps curb doctor-shopping, will stay in place for at least four more years after the Legislature failed to make the modest investment. Florida has turned a corner on prescription drug overdoses, and it is irresponsible to starve that effort now.
Florida finally got serious about prescription drug abuse three years ago after becoming known as the illegal medicine cabinet for much of the eastern United States. Since then, the number of deaths caused by oxycodone has plunged 41 percent. Pill mills have been shut down. And doctor shopping has been cut in half as the number of physicians and pharmacists using the state's prescription drug monitoring program jumped 61 percent. These numbers aren't coincidental. When doctors can check whether a patient already has a prescription for painkillers before writing another, far fewer drugs are available for sale on the street or end up being used in accidental overdoses.
But in the skewed world of Tallahassee, finding a mere $500,000 to keep the database alive wasn't nearly as important as setting aside tens of millions of dollars for pet projects in the $77 billion state budget sent to Gov. Rick Scott. The governor also ignored the drug program in his own proposed budget.
It took a plea to Bondi from the program's original sponsor, former state senator and current Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, to save the plan before money runs out Oct. 1. Bondi last week pledged a four-year, $2 million allocation from a 2008 national prescription drug fraud settlement.
The monitoring program, run by the state health department, went online in the fall of 2011. Two years later, the state reported impressive results. From 2011 to 2012, prescription drug deaths fell almost 10 percent statewide and deaths attributed to oxycodone overdoses dropped by more than 500. Likewise, prescribed quantities of oxycodone, one of the most harmful prescription drugs, fell by nearly 24 percent.
These numbers should encourage legislators to overcome their ambivalence and pay for the database with tax dollars to ensure its long-term sustainability. And they could improve the program by requiring practitioners to check the database before writing new drug orders. A bill to do that failed in the Legislature earlier this month when it became part of a massive health care bill that had too many detractors to win approval.
Bondi is right to keep the prevention of prescription drug abuse a public health and law enforcement priority. But the attorney general shouldn't have to do it by herself.