Deaths from prescription drug overdoses in Florida are rising each year. In 2008, more than 3,000 cases were recorded, up 20 percent from the previous year. Nearly 600 deaths occurred in the bay area alone. The cases include children stealing Valium from their parents' medicine cabinets, people addicted to painkillers and alcoholics who mix their drinks with Xanax. More people die from prescription drugs than from illegal drugs by a ratio of 3-1.
Despite such disturbing trends, the Florida Legislature has on three separate occasions refused to pass a bill that would establish a monitoring system that would track every prescription. Supporters say the system would spot abuses and save lives. It would uncover forgeries by drug dealers and addicts, and it would identify doctors who illegally dispense painkillers for extra cash. Thirty-six other states have monitoring systems that are financed by grants or private donations, and the systems apparently have protected patients' privacy.
Florida lawmakers should try again this spring. A new bill has been introduced by Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey that would permit doctors and pharmacists to see a patient's history before writing or filling a prescription. The bill would go far toward ending doctor shopping and attempts to fill prescriptions at multiple pharmacies.
Referring to the high number of deaths as an "epidemic," doctors, pharmacists, community activists and law enforcement officials are rallying behind Fasano's effort. Privacy concerns remain legitimate, and safeguards should be put in place to protect patients who are suffering and have valid prescriptions for painkillers. A state-of-the-art computerized system would protect doctors against deception and assure them that they are writing proper prescriptions for patients with real needs of relief.
A monitoring system would give law-abiding pharmacists another way to avoid complicity in a growing that problem that claims more lives each year, and it would help law enforcement. Legislators should work with Fasano and other advocates to pass this prescription monitoring bill, making sure to include guarantees for patient privacy. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.