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Drug database may not be online till summer

MANATEE -- A statewide database to track the prescribing and dispensing of prescription drugs may not be in place until this summer.

State legislators passed a law last year to regulate pain clinics and create the database -- the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program -- to allow pharmacists and doctors to track prescription drugs for patients statewide. Law enforcement also will be able to access the database during an investigation.

The database has been stalled because Optimum Technology Inc., an Ohio-based company specializing in software development for government and private databases, protested the first and second round of bids.

The Department of Health awarded the contract to Health Information Designs Co. on Dec. 27, according to Department of Health records.

This week, Optimum Technology filed a formal written protest with an administrative law judge claiming the other company failed to meet the requirements of the project proposal for the database and should have been rejected.

“The scoring of evaluators was arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to competition,” the protest states.

Within 30 days of the protest, a judge will render a decision to either affirm the department’s awarded contract or reject the bid, said Bruce Grant, former director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control.

Once a bid is accepted, the vendor will have 90 to 120 days to build the database, he said.

Grant’s position and office were eliminated this week after Gov. Rick Scott took office as a part of a government reorganization.

Grant’s office specialized in researching drug issues facing the state and provided a direct link to the governor’s office. The office was created by Gov. Jeb Bush. The last day of the office was Jan. 3.

Department of Health officials declined to comment on the database.

Grant, who has remained vocal about the issue, said a request for an emergency contract, which would allow the department to select a company and begin the database project, was recently declined by the former surgeon general. Ana Viamonte Ros was reluctant to complete the request, Grant said.

Scott has yet to appoint a surgeon general since he took office.

“I think the (administrative law) judge will make a decision and that will be it,” Grant said.

If the Department of Health is able to proceed with the contract, the earliest the database could go online would be May or June, Grant said.

With seven people dying every day in the state of Florida because they abused painkillers such as oxycodone, the database is overdue, stressed Sharon Kramer, executive director of Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition.

“I don’t understand it,” she said. “It seems logical to take care of these issues as a state.”

As many as 43 other states have databases in place to curtail prescription drug-related crimes and abuse.

“We’re very concerned about that. People continue to flock to Florida and, as long as the pill mills can get away with it, they will be prescribing vast amounts of opiates,” Kramer said.

With Grant’s position and office eliminated, Kramer said, the local coalition has concerns about how prescription drug abuse issues are being addressed in Tallahassee.

The coalition plans to discuss the database and elimination of the drug control office at its monthly meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at United Way, 1701 14th St. W., Bradenton.

“We have been making progress until suddenly they dissolve this office,” Kramer said. “It’s made a lot of people unhappy.”

Beth Burger, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.