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A Times Editorial

Finally, a tool to fight prescription drug abuse

Gov. Rick Scott has wisely retreated from his uninformed attempt to kill a statewide prescription drug database. After months of opposition, his Department of Health has signaled it will follow the law and work with a chosen vendor to build the database for certain powerful narcotics. That is an important step toward ending Florida's reputation as the premier destination for narcotic tourism.

As soon as midsummer, Florida should join 34 other states that already have databases for drugs such as oxycodone and Xanax. The databases track a prescription's author, dispenser and recipient to try to thwart patients who obtain multiple prescriptions for drugs that can then be sold illegally. Law enforcement officers will have access to the information only if they already have a person under investigation.

To be sure, there are flaws in the database law. For example, pharmacists have 15 days to enter information and doctors are not required to search it before writing a prescription. But it is a significant beginning. Officials from across the eastern United States, most notably Kentucky, have urged Florida to move ahead, complaining that illegal supplies in their states are directly linked to the Sunshine State.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Attorney General Pam Bondi of Tampa deserve credit for standing firm on implementing the database two years after it was approved by the Legislature. Together with longtime backer Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, they have been among the voices of reason in Tallahassee.

Scott, in his 2011-12 budget recommendation in February, had proposed doing away with the database, which was then stalled by a vendor bid protest. He claimed expense was an issue, though the $1 million cost was being shouldered by private donations. Ultimately House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, joined Scott in citing vague privacy concerns — even though Scott had no such concerns last month when he ordered mandatory drug tests for new state employees under his control and random drug screens for 100,000 state workers.

Those on the front line of Florida's prescription drug abuse epidemic — law enforcement and the medical community — were united in urging Scott to let the database go forward. Now the challenge for them, as well as for Haridopolos, Bondi and Fasano, will be to continue to hold the line against other attacks on smart policy crafted in the last two years.

Cannon has signaled a willingness to undo regulations passed last year to further regulate pain management doctors and clinics. And HB 7095, sponsored by Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, recently proposed new regulation on all but the biggest national pharmacy chains. Such an idea appears both unwarranted and unfair to small business.

Prescription drug abuse causes an average of seven deaths a day in Florida. A database won't directly prevent such deaths, but it will give the medical community and law enforcement one more tool to fight this scourge that is killing Floridians, devastating families and taxing our communities. That is progress, even if it was a long time coming.

Finally, a tool to fight prescription drug abuse 04/11/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 5:53pm]
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