TALLAHASSEE -- Despite continued objections from Gov. Rick Scott, a prescription drug monitoring database that has been on hold is set to launch.
The Department of Health on Friday issued a final order in a months-long bid dispute between two vendors, giving the program a green light.
The news prompted cheers from elected officials and law enforcement officers who see the database as a critical tool in the fight against the state’s prescription drug epidemic.
“The database will provide ‘shock and awe’ in Florida’s efforts to end the criminal abuse of legal prescription drugs,” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a consistent champion of the program. “In addition to the Senate’s commitment to the database, pending legislation will strengthen the prescription drug monitoring program and provide even stronger privacy protections for individual Floridians.”
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Attorney General Pam Bondi has made combating prescription drug abuse a top priority, appointing former state Sen. Dave Aronberg to spearhead the effort.
“As part of a criminal investigation, the program will enable law enforcement to act more quickly in identifying and arresting pill mill operators,” she said in a statement.
Killing the database before it started had been a top priority of Scott and Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon, who say the it would be an invasion of privacy and won’t help solve the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
Scott called for the Legislature to repeal a 2009 law mandating the database as part of his budget package slashing $4.6 billion from Florida’s bottom line, even though the program relied on no state funding.
Federal grants and private fundraising efforts -- including $1 million from Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin -- have generated enough money to run the database for about two years.
The governor’s move prompted harsh criticism from those on the front lines of the war on prescription drug abuse.
“The governor still has concerns about patient privacy and that the database is not the silver bullet that proponents have claimed,” said Scott spokesman Brian Hughes. “He’s focused on law enforcement solutions to this criminal problem.”
Late last month, Scott launched a statewide “strike force” headed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies.
Scott directed the FDLE to use $800,000 in unspent federal grant money to help pay for overtime and other costs associated with the effort.
Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, is sponsoring a House bill that calls for eliminating the database. Instead, he is pushing legislation to prohibit doctors from dispensing narcotics.
Schenck said he won’t back down on his effort to repeal the database.
“While some may say it doesn’t cost the state anything, it’s going to cost millions of law-abiding citizens their privacy and they don’t deserve that, especially when research shows time and time again databases do not solve the problem,” said Schenck, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Subcommittee. “Until we cut the supply of these drugs off, we’re still going to have the epidemic we face.”
The Legislature voted to create the program two years ago as part of an attempt to crack down on storefront pain clinics that hand out huge quantities of such prescription drugs as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax, and have made Florida a destination for drug dealers and abusers from other states. Laws also were passed that required registration and inspections of pain clinics, and prevented felons from operating the clinics.
The program was scheduled to launch in December 2010, but bid disputes between vendors delayed its start.