Scott sticks with plan to kill Florida’s drug tracking

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott was unfazed Tuesday by criticism he’s getting from out-of-state politicians over his proposal to kill a proposed prescription tracking system designed to crack down on “pill mills” that supply pain killers and other illicit medications to drug dealers and addicts.

Scott said he won’t withdraw his budget recommendation to repeal the state’s new prescription monitoring law and added a new element to his opposition. He accused the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation of wasting private money that it has raised to pay for the system.

“I don’t support the database,” Scott said at a news conference. “I believe it’s an invasion of privacy.”

Scott also said, “It has come to my attention that thousands of dollars have been spent on lawyers, travel, meals for board members.”

The foundation’s chairman, Dave Bowen, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

The cash-strapped Legislature failed to appropriate money for the monitoring system, which is on hold due to contract challenges. Instead, lawmakers created the foundation to seek donations.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said it’s her understanding that enough money has been raised to pay for the first year of operation.

Bondi supports the database but said she’s also focused on increasing criminal and civil penalties and beefing up enforcement in an effort to shut down the “flamingo express.”

That’s the nickname given to the pipeline of illicit prescription drugs flowing from Florida’s pill mills to other states, most of which have prescription monitoring systems.

‘It’s important’

Sharon Kramer, executive director of the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, says the database is not an invasion of privacy.

“The information is not available to the public and only accessible by doctors, pharmacist and law enforcement,” she said. “No way it’s an invasion of privacy.”

She said she was surprised when she heard Scott’s plan.

“I am rather amazed by the governor’s position. I don’t really understand it,” said Kramer. “It’s important, especially in this state where there is no PDMP,”

Everyday seven people die from prescription drug overdoses in Florida and prescription drug abuse and diversion cost Florida an estimated $15 billion in 2009, according to a 2009 study by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“I know what’s happening, now our governor needs to know,” Kramer said.

Calls from around nation

Over the weekend, U.S. senators from New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia as well as Florida’s Bill Nelson called on Scott, a Republican health care executive who was elected last year, to let the program begin.

Florida’s lack of a tracking system “has serious ramifications for the rest of the country battling abuse of prescription drugs,” wrote Nelson and Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All are Democrats.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., also have written Scott urging him to change his mind.

Scott’s recommendation has drawn resistance from at least one key player in the Florida Legislature.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who’s also running for the GOP nomination to oppose Nelson next year, said he not only wants to keep the tracking system but supports state funding for it.

-- Paradise Afshar, Herald staff writer, contributed to this report.