MANATEE — Local authorities are hopeful a new state law targeting “pill mills” will put a dent in a growing prescription pain drug problem in Manatee County.
“It should help with accountability,” said Bradenton Police Department Narcotics Sgt. Sean Monahan. “At least it’s a step in the right direction. ... The amount of abuse has skyrocketed.”
While many people obtain pills from street dealers, those dealers often doctor shop at “pill mills” that dole out the maximum prescription level to patients. Some of the clinics don’t require a physical exam or insurance.
Dealers obtain the maximum prescription — 240 pills — and then turn around and sell the pills. On average, a 30-milligram Oxycodone pill has a street value of about $10 to $12, Monahan said.
Otherwise, the pill runs $1.42 at a pharmacy, according to a Johns Hopkins University website.
Manatee’s 11 registered pain clinics had been under local jurisdiction until Friday, when the state law went into effect.
Requirements of the new law include:
n Pain clinics must be owned by a doctor, group of doctors or registered under the Agency for Health Care Administration.
n The Department of Health will conduct annual inspections and document any violations.
n A physical exam must be performed the same day the prescription is prescribed.
n If a doctor prescribes more than a 72-hour supply of medicine for pain, the reason must be documented in the patient’s medical record.
n A doctor cannot dispense more than a 72-hour supply for patients who pay with cash, check or credit card instead of insurance.
n Doctors must use counterfeit resistant prescription blanks.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said the law is needed.
Prescription drug abuse has taxed the system, he said. Manatee County has had an increase in residential burglaries where medicine cabinets are rummaged through and an increase, too, in jail population because of more drug arrests.
“A lot of it is drug arrests. It appears people are not bonding those arrested on drug cases out,” Steube said. “They don’t bond them out until trial. ... They are not going to get drugs in jail and get cleaned up that way. That’s another side of it.”
In the past few months, the jail population has grown from 1,050 to about 1,150 — mostly female inmates and drug arrests, Steube said.
Cheryl Libera, director of Manatee Glens addiction center and outpatient detox, said about half the beds used at Manatee Glens addiction center are filled with people addicted to prescription pain pills.
“My hope is it’s going to have an impact. Realistically, I think people will find it if they want it. (But) I think that’s going to be one of the saving graces of this new law — that doctors become more aware and become fearful of the ramifications of getting caught,” she said.
People also continue to die from overdoses.
Every other day, at least one person dies in our three-county area of a prescription pill drug overdose, said Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega for the 12th district, which includes Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties.
Vega predicts prescription drug deaths will only increase from 2009 to 2010.
But not everyone is in favor of the new law.
A lawsuit filed two weeks ago by a patient and a group of doctors — including Dr. Amy Griswold, of Manatee Pain Care — opposes the new law.
The 42-page federal lawsuit claims the law is unconstitutional and discriminates against patients who pay up front without insurance. The group has asked for an injunction for the law not to take effect until the case is heard.
As of Friday, no action had been taken, according to federal court records.
Last year, legislators also passed a law that would create a statewide database in which pain prescriptions would be logged showing doctors and pharmacists if patients were visiting other doctors for the same medication.
“Certainly to me that would be the best way to manage it,” Steube said. “As soon as you run the name, you see the person has received a prescription for the medication. I think that’s going to be key here.”
The database was scheduled to go online Dec. 1.
Last month, the Department of Health filed a notice to reject all bids for the database, according to Eulinda Smith, department spokeswoman.Two vendors protested the department’s decision.
The implementation of the system is now on hold until the bid protest is resolved, she said. “Since this matter is still in litigation, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time,” Smith said in an e-mail.