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‘Big Brother’ fear behind database attack

Likening it to "Big Brother,'' a House health-committee chairman said Tuesday he will look at repealing a prescription-drug database that lawmakers approved in 2009 to try to curb deadly drug abuse.

House Health and Human Services Chairman Rob Schenck's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott included such a repeal in his budget proposal. Speaker Dean Cannon has directed Schenck to lead a review of the state's efforts to deal with prescription-drug abuse, including the database.

Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican, said he views the database as "just a big-government, big-brother alternative'' and that his committee will look at other ways to address the drug problem.

"I would say at this point, I'm certainly open to (repealing the database),'' Schenck said.

Some conservatives have long opposed the database because of concerns about privacy and government intrusion. But Scott's proposed repeal alarmed database supporters, who argue it is the most-effective way to crack down on prescription-drug abuse and unscrupulous pill mills.

Dr. Raul Monzon, president of the Florida Academy of Pain Medicine, issued a statement Tuesday urging Scott to reconsider the repeal idea.

"A real-time (prescription-drug monitoring program) is the single most effective weapon in the battle to shut down Florida’s so-called 'pill mills,' which are contributing to the seven prescription drug overdose deaths that Florida’s medical examiners report occur daily in our state,'' Monzon said in the statement.

Though approved in 2009, the database has still not started operating --- at least in part because of ongoing bid disputes among vendors. It is designed to allow tracking of prescription drugs so that addicts will not be able to doctor-shop for narcotics.

Scott quietly included the repeal in a bill that goes along with his budget proposal. A spokeswoman said in an e-mail that Scott does not believe the database is "a function that is best performed by government.''

Neither Scott nor Schenck detailed alternative strategies for targeting prescription-drug abuse. But Attorney General Pam Bondi last week released a legislative proposal that would increase criminal penalties and fines for doctors and others who commit wrongdoing.

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis said it is up to the Legislature to decide whether to continue moving forward with the database. She said the attorney general is focused on the other potential steps to address the problems.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday where Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, stand on a potential repeal. But Cannon spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an e-mail that he directed Schenck's committee to undertake the review.

"The Speaker believes that we need to look at the body of policies that have been put in place to address prescription-drug abuse in an effort to assess their overall effectiveness,'' Betta said.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at jim.saunders@healthnewsflorida.org.