State Politics

U.S. drug czar: Drug database may go online

TALLAHASSEE -- White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said Thursday that he is encouraged that Florida may move forward with a planned statewide database for tracking prescription drugs.

Gov. Rick Scott wanted to scrap plans for the database, which would monitor the dispensing of prescription drugs. Scott has called it a waste of state money and an invasion of privacy.

Kerlikowske disagreed with Scott’s assessment.

“I clearly believe (databases) are an effective tool in dealing with the prescription drug problem,” Kerlikowske told an audience at Florida State University’s law school.

South Florida has gained a reputation for clinics known as “pill mills,” which dispense prescription painkillers such as oxycodone. State officials have said that 85 percent of all oxycodone sold in the nation comes from Florida, and America’s top 50 prescribers of the medication are based in the Sunshine State.

Kerlikowske’s visit comes a week after raids on South Florida pain clinics led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration resulted in 20 arrests. Painkillers are now second to marijuana in drug abuse among Floridians, he said.

Kerlikowske said he had been concerned that the state was not moving toward setting up tracking databases, but after meetings this week, he believes something will get done.

The drug czar would not elaborate on what he meant after his speech, but did say he met with Attorney General Pam Bondi earlier Thursday.

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis confirmed that meeting, which included former state Sen. Dave Aronberg, now in charge of Bondi’s effort to combat prescription drug abuse. But Davis did not give specifics.

They discussed the attorney’s general’s efforts to combat the pill crisis and ways to approach it and expressed their commitment to stopping it, Davis said.

Reached later, Aronberg said Scott’s opposition alone can’t stop the database because Florida law now requires it. The money to operate it isn’t coming out of a state budget line item, so Scott can’t veto funding. He also noted Senate President Mike Haridopolos supports the database.

“The fact that the president of the Senate has come out strongly in favor of the database is an encouraging sign,” Aronberg said. “Those who oppose the database would have to pass legislation to repeal it this legislative session over the objections of the Senate President.”

Representatives of Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prescription drug abuse is the country’s fastest growing substance abuse problem, Kerlikowske said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic, he said.

Thirty-four states already have prescription drug monitoring programs, he said, and they are effective.

Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that anti-drug efforts must continue to tackle both the supply and demand sides of the problem.

Drug abuse “is a disease, not a moral failing, and addiction is preventable,” he said.

Kerlikowske, a former police chief in Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie in St. Lucie County, most recently served as Seattle police chief before President Obama appointed him drug czar last year.

His talk was sponsored by FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.