Gov. Rick Scott wants to send the message to America that Florida is open for business. But he's also signaling that Florida is open for drug addicts. Scott's call to eliminate a still-under-development prescription drug database is an offense to public safety and ignores an epidemic claiming seven lives in Florida each day. Fortunately, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and the rest of the Legislature will ultimately decide the database's fate.
Thirty-four states already have prescription drug databases, which allow doctors and pharmacies to check whether their clients have recently filled a prescription for oxycodone, Vicodin or other highly addictive pharmaceuticals. Such systems over the past decade have been shown to thwart "doctor shoppers," individuals who often begin as legitimate pain patients but discover they can obtain multiple prescriptions for drugs and then sell the excess on the streets.
Florida's failure, until recently, to crack down on illegal prescription drug peddling has contributed to the entire country's problem. As St. Petersburg Times staff writer Meg Laughlin detailed last week: Officials in Ohio and Kentucky — which have databases — routinely arrest individuals on drug charges who obtained their supply in Florida. In eastern Kentucky in 2009, 500 of those arrested on drug charges had traveled to Florida, the Kentucky State Police told Laughlin.
Growing awareness that Florida has become known for something other than sunshine helped Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, persuade the 2009 Legislature to authorize the database. He had pushed the issue for six years. Lawmakers still declined to provide any money, insisting the project be funded from non-state revenue. Last year, after bureaucrats scrounged up $1.2 million from private and federal sources, a vendor launched a bid protest and stalled implementation. Now Scott wants to scrap the project entirely, citing vague concerns about patient privacy and cost.
Those issues, as evidenced from other states' experience, are all but moot. The database will be covered under federal health care privacy rules — just like insurance records. Law enforcement officers will have access to the information only if they already have a person under investigation. The average cost of running the database — $500,000 — is far less than any single Florida community must already absorb when addicts go on crime sprees to support their habit or end up with hospital bills they can't pay.
Luckily, Haridopolos and Attorney General Pam Bondi get that. The Republicans, in a rare public split with the new governor, made clear last week they support the database. Haridopolos went so far as to pledge state revenue to fund it, if needed.
"I think the database is a good idea because people are dying — literally in the streets, in the back of cars, from these drug havens,'' said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. He's right. He should persuade House Speaker Dean Cannon and the rest of the Legislature to keep this good public policy in place.