Continuing Florida's unprecedented assault on illegal prescription drug use that has curbed deaths and addictions should be an easy embrace for state lawmakers. But rather than build on that success — or even maintain the effort — leaders in Tallahassee continue to undermine a key tool in the battle, the prescription drug database to curb doctor shopping.
The reluctance to embrace the database is disappointing. Gov. Rick Scott's 2013-14 budget proposal included no money to operate the database, and the Legislature has shown no inclination to do otherwise. Without an influx of private contributions or state financing, the 18-month-old database faces an uncertain future because of the $500,000 annual operating cost.
Nor have lawmakers ever been willing to fully exploit the tool by requiring doctors to access it before writing prescriptions for certain highly addictive drugs to ensure their patients aren't just addicts or dealers stockpiling prescriptions. Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who had hoped to pass the physicians' mandate this year, is expected to retreat on that point today in the House Health and Human Services Committee in hopes of keeping other key provisions alive. Specifically, Fasano seeks to overturn an unreasonable restriction from 2011 that barred pharmaceutical companies from helping to pay for the database. Essentially, Fasano is exchanging a chance to increase the program's effectiveness for the opportunity to just keep it operating with private dollars.
The real question should be why such machinations are necessary. The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show immediate and laudable results in the state's battle against prescription drug abuse. Notably, the number of oxycodone deaths dropped 29 percent during the first six months of 2012 compared with the second half of 2011. Drug deaths attributed to methadone and hydrocodone also showed double-digit declines.
The encouraging numbers follow legislative and law enforcement remedies that targeted unscrupulous doctors dispensing highly addictive painkillers to cash-paying patients at storefront clinics dubbed pill mills. Still, more works remains. In the first six months of 2012, drugs were present or the cause of death in 4,126 people in Florida, a 4.7 percent drop over 2011, but prescription pills continued to claim more lives than heroin, cocaine or other illicit drugs.
The state shouldn't ease up now. Legislators need to ensure adequate funding for the database and the state should require physicians and other practitioners to check it before writing new drug orders. Despite the recent advances, prescription drug abuse remains a public health priority for Florida.