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Bush backs prescription drug abuse database

Gov. Jeb Bush is backing a proposed plan to track prescriptions in hopes of cutting the number of deaths from the painkiller OxyContin and other drugs likely to be abused.

The governor wrote the Orlando Sentinel for Saturday editions in response to a series on addiction and overdoses to say the newspaper "exposed a problem that is too widespread and deadly to ignore."

State House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said he would support legislation with a three-year "sunset" provision to review privacy issues and the estimated $3-million in annual operating costs.

The tracking system would enable doctors, pharmacists, state officials and law enforcement agencies to look for instances of overprescription and abuse.

OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P. has pledged $2-million toward software for the system, which has been rejected twice by the state Legislature.

"We are working with the governor's administration and legislative leaders, as we did last year, to encourage passage of the legislation," Purdue Pharma spokesman Jim Heins said Friday.

The company's offer expires in July. The pledge was made in November 2002 when the state dropped an investigation into how the company marketed its popular painkiller.

In an Oct. 14 letter to state Attorney General Charlie Crist, an attorney for an Osceola County woman whose husband died of an OxyContin overdose in 2000 suggested he should launch a new investigation in light of a lawsuit by a former Purdue Pharma researcher.

Dr. Marek Zakrzewski claimed in an August lawsuit that he was fired after telling federal regulators that OxyContin has dangerous flaws based on dissolve rates that could cause "overdosing and potentially lead to addiction." Purdue Pharma said the allegations were "absolutely without merit."

The Sentinel's nine-month investigation examined hundreds of autopsy and police reports involving oxycodone overdoses in 2001 and 2002. Oxycodone is the active ingredient in OxyContin and dozens of other painkillers.

OxyContin was identified in 83 percent of the 247 fatal overdoses in which a specific medication was named. No brand name was determined in 253 other oxycodone deaths.

Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh went off the air last month after saying he was checking into rehab for painkiller addiction. The announcement followed reports that his former Palm Beach maid supplied him with OxyContin and other painkillers.

Bush's family has personal experience with prescription drug abuse. His daughter, Noelle, completed a rehab program in August after she was charged with fraudulently trying to get a prescription for the antianxiety drug Xanax.