Efforts to fight pill mills working, but funding in question

Oct 26, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on October 26, 2012: 

Efforts to fight pill mills working but funding in question

By Gray Rohrer


Elected officials are touting stepped-up law enforcement efforts and a prescription-tracking database as putting a dent in the number of deaths related to pain killers, but so far state leaders have not found a way to pay for either venture on a permanent basis.

Gov. Rick Scott set up the Statewide Drug Strike Force in March 2011 to coordinate local law enforcement agencies’ efforts with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as they target pill mills. FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey joined Attorney General Pam Bondi for a press conference this week to tout the strike force’s success, with a 17.7 percent drop in oxycodone-related deaths in 2011 and the shuttering of 254 pill mills, even though overall drug deaths increased slightly.

The strike force was set up with $800,000 in federal grant money, but after spending $413,000, the grant expired, and the state had to give the rest of the money back. State lawmakers pledged $3 million for the strike force in 2011, but the FDLE must give back any money it doesn’t spend by Jan. 1. So far it has spent nearly $1 million since July 1, 2011.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the agency is searching for federal grants to fund the strike force in the new year, but if such funding isn’t found FDLE and local law enforcement agencies would keep the strike force going with existing appropriations. She said she couldn’t speculate where FDLE would cut to keep the program running.

“We’re going to continue our strike force,” Plessinger said. “We will make this a priority.”

Meanwhile, a database that collects drug prescription information that can be checked by physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement officials and is designed to prevent doctor shopping will run out of funding on June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The database, known as the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), is funded by grants and private donations, and costs about $500,000 per year to operate. Scott originally was opposed to the PDMP but relented when no state money would be used to fund it. He softened his stance further this month when he said he’d be open to state funding for the database.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the database legislation in 2011, said state leaders need to be more vigorous in their efforts to combat pill mills and prescription drug abuse, and to find a permanent source of revenue to fund both the strike force and the PDMP.

“What they put in there was a good start but it’s not nearly enough,” Fasano said. “There doesn’t seem to be an immediate response in government from the leadership in Tallahassee to this epidemic.”

Fasano added that House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, have been supportive of the database.

Indeed, Weatherford wants to find funding for the database, and Gaetz is open to it as well, but wants to make sure it is actually preventing doctor shopping.

“The Speaker-designate is committed to finding a way to fund the PDMP and will consider different options,” Weatherford spokesman Ryan Duffy wrote in an email. “He believes it’s working and should therefore be a priority.”

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