Pasco County should join other local governments tightening controls on the free-wheeling dispensing of prescription narcotics. Consider: More people died of oxycodone-related deaths in Pinellas and Pasco counties in the first six months of 2009 than anywhere else in the state.
In Pasco, the number of violent crimes tied to prescription drugs jumped 83 percent last year even though the overall crime rate dropped.
Prescription drug fraud cases are up more than 140 percent over a five-year period and illicit drug use among young adults in Pasco and Hernando counties is higher than the state average.
Most alarmingly, across the state six people die every day from a prescription drug overdose.
Already, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the cities of Tampa and Bradenton have adopted or are pursuing temporary bans on new clinics. Tuesday, Pasco commissioners wisely agreed with Rep. John Legg that a moratorium should be considered here until Oct. 1, the effective date for new state rules if Gov. Charlie Crist signs legislation into law as expected.
The bill on the governor's desk, sponsored by Legg, R-Port Richey, and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, prohibits so-called pill mills from dispensing more than a three-day supply of prescription drugs to customers paying with cash, credit card or check. The intent is to separate legitimate patients using private, government or workers compensation insurance from the cash-carrying drug mules.
Data provided by the federally funded initiative, Pasco Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, listed more than 30 pain management clinics in Pasco County, but it does not differentiate between what may be legitimate medical practices and those that may be dispensing large quantities of narcotics on site to cash-paying clients.
The ease with which out-of-state residents can legally obtain prescription narcotics to sell back home turned Florida into the center of the pill-peddling industry and brought a call for legislative reform in consecutive years. The key to this year's bill is the limit on quantities that can be dispensed on site, though there are fears unscrupulous clinics will circumvent the law by charging their cash-paying customers an exorbitant fee for office visits then dispensing the drugs free of charge.
The potential exploitation of that loophole is why it is imperative for local governments to reinforce the state efforts. Failure to act in Pasco County will invite an unwanted invasion, Legg predicted.
"It's like rats on a sinking ship. They're fleeing and going to other areas and if we don't pass an ordinance, crime will flow to the path of least resistance,'' he said Tuesday.
Pasco County government can check its own business development records for confirmation. West Pasco became home to a slew of new adult entertainment establishments after Pinellas County cities adopted tighter controls on that industry in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Commissioners shouldn't allow the illegal drug trade to follow suit.