A Florida House plan to ban doctors from dispensing powerful narcotics is being billed as a superior method to fight the state's prescription drug trafficking problem. But as the latest police roundup in Pinellas County illustrated this month, stripping doctors of their right to dispense such drugs won't rid Florida of this scourge. A better plan is already in state law if Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House will just get out of the way: Track every prescription's author, dispenser and recipient in a database like 34 other states already do.
The House plan proposed by Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, summarily rejects years of hard work and compromise by the Legislature, law enforcement and the medical community to tackle an epidemic that is now responsible for seven deaths a day and has made Florida a leading source of illegal prescription drugs across the eastern United States.
Those efforts are just starting to pay dividends. New regulations on doctors whose specialty is pain management have led to the closure of pill mills across the state and tighter oversight of legitimate pain management practitioners. Earlier this month, a state judge cleared the way for implementing the much-anticipated prescription drug database that had been stalled by a vendor's bid protest. A pharmaceutical giant also pledged $1 million to pay for it.
But there remain political barriers, most notably the governor, who claims he has concerns about privacy — though law enforcement won't have access to the database without an active investigation. He has halted the database implementation and rejected the $1 million donation.
Schenck and House leaders have gone even further, proposing to roll back the regulations on pain management doctors — claiming that just banning them from dispensing the narcotics will solve the problem.
It won't solve anything, and it will punish a lot of responsible doctors and their patients in the process. Doctors dispense just 16 percent of the oxycodone in Florida. Nothing in Schenck's plan would deter doctor shoppers — individuals who visit multiple doctors to obtain redundant prescriptions that they take to multiple pharmacies to fill. Nor is there a mechanism to clearly identify doctors who grossly overprescribe the drug; or to combat the use of stolen or fraudulent prescription pads.
Stolen prescription pads were at the heart of an investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office that led to 94 arrest warrants for an estimated $4 million in pill trafficking. Had the database been in place, the operation might have been uncovered far sooner.
Prescription drugs now kill more people than illegal ones, destroy families and cost society unknown amounts in crime and indigent health care. Law enforcement, the medical community, pharmaceutical companies, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Senate stand firmly behind a comprehensive policy, from creating a database to stiffer regulation of pain specialists. The governor and the House should get on board.