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A Times Editorial

Step up the fight against pill mills

Hernando County is Exhibit A for state government's failure to get a handle on the proliferation of pill mills. Months after other Tampa Bay counties acted individually to regulate pain management clinics, six new shops are scheduled to open in Hernando in coming months. Now Sheriff Al Nienhuis is pushing the County Commission to enact its own ban on new clinics, and state leadership — save for Attorney General Pam Bondi — is still sitting on its hands. Tallahassee's continued inaction to counter an epidemic that kills seven people a day, strains law enforcement and overburdens the health care system is inexcusable.

Bondi deserves credit for keeping the spotlight on this scourge. Her office has pledged to help local law enforcement build cases. And on Thursday, she said she would push for new state laws to assign tougher penalties to doctors who fail to adhere to medical standards for prescribing highly addictive drugs such as oxycodone, and to pain management clinic operators who lie or misrepresent their qualifications at registration. And she wants a law requiring anyone maintaining an inventory of controlled substances to report any theft to law enforcement within 48 hours of discovery or face civil penalties and fines.

Bondi's plans make sense. Florida's lax laws have made the state a drug tourist destination and a source of much of the nation's black market. Tightening the laws will give new tools for law enforcement and complement the hard work many local police agencies are doing on their own — such as Operation Pain Reliever, the Hillsborough sheriff's monthslong investigation that netted 55 arrests on Thursday.

But as Bondi is using her office and bully pulpit on the issue, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon can't seem to run away fast enough. After an antiregulation law passed in November stalled implementation of much-anticipated regulations for pain management clinics the Legislature had approved in the spring, the pair might as well have shrugged. Their committees, they say, will reconsider the rules when the regular session starts in March — a full 10 months after the rules were passed and after many more illegal prescription drugs have flooded Florida's streets.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott has shut down the Office of Drug Policy, claiming the function could be absorbed by other state agencies. But he has yet to bring any urgency to that mission. And a statewide prescription drug database, first stalled over a lack of funding and later by a vendor bid protest, remains a pipe dream.

Bondi has joined Florida's local leaders to fight this epidemic. But Scott, Haridopolos and Cannon — each with the capacity to make a difference — are choosing to sit on the sidelines. That's not leadership. It's an abdication of responsibility.

Step up the fight against pill mills 02/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 4, 2011 5:12pm]
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