Florida's latest tourist trend is nothing to boast about. Like opium dens of old, pain management clinics lure locals and travelers from across state lines seeking an altered state. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have banned any more pain management clinics from opening, and state regulations expected to take effect later this year should also curb clinics' business. But a dark shadow will remain over the Sunshine State until it's clear that new regulations are slowing the flow of illegal prescription drugs.
Florida's lax regulation of pain clinics and its slowness in creating a database to track prescriptions of powerful drugs have taken their toll. Six Floridians die each day from prescription drug overdoses. Two recent deaths of Palm Harbor University High students are being linked by some to drug overdoses. Less understood is the role that Florida — with 92 of the nation's top 100 oxycodone prescribers — has played in fueling a national epidemic.
Even anecdotal evidence is telling. As St. Petersburg Times staff writers recently documented, visits to pain management clinics in Hillsborough County showed dozens of cars waiting, many from out of state. Lines of customers wait to see doctors for bottles of the painkiller oxycodone or antianxiety medication such as Xanax.
Legislation expected to be signed by Gov. Charlie Crist should take the shine off this burgeoning tourist trap starting in October. Senate Bill 2272 will require doctor registrations for pain clinics, third-party accreditation and Department of Health inspections. It would control how the clinics advertise and, most notably, ban clinics — but not pharmacies — from dispensing more than a 72-hour supply of controlled substances to patients paying with cash, check or credit card.
By December, the state's long-awaited prescription drug database will track the flow of certain kinds of drugs, making it harder for one individual to have multiple prescriptions filled at one time. Some clients of pain clinics must rely on the medication to handle pain. The new regulation should not prevent legitimate patients from getting what they need. All but 12 states already have databases. Those states don't have drug tourists. Hopefully soon, Florida won't either.