State Rep. Robert Schenck is out of touch with the public safety needs of his district. Just two weeks after Sheriff Al Nienhuis called prescription drug abuse the top law enforcement issue in Hernando County, Schenck, R-Spring Hill, wants to dismantle a state database intended to help fight the pain pill epidemic.
Schenck advocates repealing the 2009 law that created the state database to track people making multiple purchases of commonly abused prescription drugs like oxycodone, Vicodin and Xanax. More than 40 states already have such a drug-tracking system, but Florida's past resistance — and its inability to finance and then implement the current law — has turned the state into a haven for pain management clinics doubling as easy drug dispensers to cash-paying customers.
The result has been seven deaths each day in Florida from prescription drug overdoses. In Hernando, six-month data from 2010 showed almost one death a week and the Sheriff's Office reported that more people had died of drug-related reasons (135) than traffic accidents (127) during a 42-month span. The Sheriff's Office also has said that 90 percent of the narcotics cases handled in Hernando are for prescription drugs and every category of crime, including home invasions and robberies, is affected by prescription drug abuse.
Pain management clinics, with on-site pharmacies accepting cash payments, are the main supply line for oxycodone — the most abused drug in Hernando — and other prescription painkillers flooding the streets. In the last three months of 2010, four pain clinics registered to operate in Hernando County, bringing to 16 the number of clinics here. And there could be more since there is no penalty for failing to register. Nienhuis said in January that he is preparing to ask the County Commission to ban new pain management clinics.
That matters little to the big government bogeyman. Schenck called the government-owned database "big brother, big government having way too much information and it's a huge infringement on our rights.'' Odd, but he was curiously silent on those privacy issues in 2009. Legislative records show Schenck voted for the database bill on the full House floor where it was approved 103-10.
On Friday, Schenck told Times staff writer Tony Marrero he opposed the bill and was off the House floor on April 30, 2009, when some unknown person cast his vote for him. He said he didn't correct the record because it didn't affect the outcome.
So, what is the explanation for Schenck's vote 29 days earlier when he joined a unanimous Health and Family Services Policy Council (24-0) in approving the House version of the database bill? Did he not mean it because it was April Fool's Day?
The revisionist history shows a representative eager to play obstructionist on an imperative public safety issue. Schenck promises future legislative hearings to develop other tactics to combat prescription drug abuse. But law officers will be hard-pressed to put much faith in legislators intent on repealing one of the crime-fighting tools already on the books.
Schenck should consider the adage to either lead or get out of the way. His assumed role of a hindrance serves no benefit to law officers and legitimate health care providers trying to stem easy access to dangerous drugs.