‘Pill mill’ crackdown kicked off in Florida with drug registry
Sep 2, 2011
The following article was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal on September 2, 2011:
“Pill mill” crackdown kicked off in Florida with drug registry
Florida joined 34 other states Thursday in requiring doctors and pharmacists who dispense potent painkillers to register prescriptions in a drug tracking database — an attempt to stop Florida’s reputation as a one-stop shop for pill-eaters from all over the Eastern Seaboard.
State Surgeon General Frank Farmer, an Ormond Beach internal medicine specialist, predicted it will take six to eight months to determine whether the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program will shut down so-called “pill mills.”
Federal figures show Florida doctors and clinics ordered 85 percent of the country’s oxycodone last year. Other drugs that must be registered include the painkillers Percocet and Vicodin, and anti-anxiety drugs Klonopin, Xanax and Valium.
“The party’s over for the free hand that enabled people who deliberately set about to abuse their professional privileges” for prescribing, Farmer said Thursday in a phone interview from Tallahassee. “I think the Legislature and the recent laws that were passed have enough safeguards they are no longer going to be able to do things that have been done in the past.”
Also beginning Thursday, all Florida doctors are now required to use tamper-proof prescription pads to prescribe certain drugs. Dispensing physicians, or those certified to give out the drugs in their offices, and pharmacists have seven days to register what controlled substances are given to patients.
Pharmacies have software that will automatically transmit the information every seven days. Doctors will be able to check if patients have other prescriptions for the controlled drugs starting Oct. 17, according to a state Department of Health spokeswoman.
The start of the database means the state of emergency that Farmer declared on July 1 is over. He has called the number of deaths — seven people a day in Florida — from the painkillers a public health crisis and an epidemic.
Randy Margrave, a pharmacist at Holly Hill Pharmacy, said he supports the new database, which presents a monthly $20 cost to his business. He said the software at his business will automatically transmit the prescribing data every seven days.
“Most likely, it’s going to be more work in the beginning — if anything’s incorrect, we’ll have to fix it,” he said.
His business has experienced the painkiller’s problems firsthand — a customer broke into the business trying to steal some of it. Margrave said the Holly Hill Pharmacy stopped filling prescriptions from out-of-town doctors long ago because of the volume of painkilling prescriptions he and his colleagues were seeing.
But Dr. David Billmeier, a Port Orange family practice physician, said the database presents some concerns for doctors. He recently began working at the Halifax Health Hospice of Volusia/Flagler to ease the pain of dying patients.
“It may create a tendency to prescribe less or shift the duty (of prescribing) to another doctor,” he said. “Patients could be painfully stuck in the middle.”
The database was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2009 but was delayed first because the $1 million needed to start and fund the database’s first year had to be raised privately. Further delays occurred when a losing bidder sued over which company was chosen to set up the database. When a judge dismissed the lawsuit, clearing the way for Alabama’s Health Information Designs to provide the database, Farmer was legally obligated to begin setting up the tracking system.
But the database was thrown further into doubt when Gov. Rick Scott, shortly after his inauguration, said he was concerned it might pose a violation of privacy laws, considering how the system might be hacked. Thursday, though, the governor sounded thoroughly on board with the effort.
“While the statewide public health declaration may no longer be in effect, the efforts of the Florida Department of Health, law enforcement partners and other state agencies remain strong,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “We have made great strides and will continue to, in our fight against prescription drug abuse, and I applaud the professional work of both the Department of Health and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”