TALLAHASSEE -- A deal struck in the early-morning hours of the session’s final day saved lawmakers from the embarrassment of failing to pass legislation aimed at cracking down on pill mills that have earned Florida the nickname “OxyContin Express.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi has made tackling the prescription drug abuse epidemic her top priority. She said she spoke at 2 a.m. to House Speaker Dean Cannon to push him toward a compromise on the legislation. She also made a personal appeal to Senate President Mike Haridopolos to drop a controversial exemption for workers compensation doctors to a proposed narcotics dispensing ban.
As a final vote approached around 8 p.m. Friday, Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott joined Cannon on the dais in the House chamber to watch as representatives voted unanimously in favor of the bill.
The room burst into applause, repeating a scene from hours earlier when the Senate also approved the legislation unanimously with Bondi in the chamber.
“Today I think you saw what is the best of the best of Tallahassee,” Cannon said after the House vote.
“Which is the governor, the attorney general, the Senate and House, each with a different viewpoint, coming together in a bipartisan fashion to solve a problem that really, really is killing our children and our adults.”
The final bill, after months of negotiations that ran down to the wire, is better than what any of them could have done on their own, he said.
Earlier in the day, Haridopolos said his wife, a general practice physician, urged him to make every effort possible to resolve differences with the House so legislation could move forward this year.
“We were worried last night we might not line up,” he said. “We eventually found compromise.”
The end product tightens reporting requirements to a prescription drug monitoring database and includes a dispensing ban for most doctors and movement toward a monthly dosage cap on dispensing for pharmacies.
It also includes measures requested by Bondi to increase penalties for doctors who overprescribe narcotics.
After the Senate passed the bill, Bondi sent this message to operators of pill mills in Florida: “These guys better get ready to get out of the state.”
Florida has been under pressure from elected officials throughout the country to rein in the clinics that lure people seeking easy access to powerful painkillers.
Estimates are that prescription drugs kill seven people every day in Florida.