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Scott: Repeal law that sets up drug-monitoring program

Gov. Rick Scott wants to repeal the law setting up a prescription-drug monitoring system in Florida -- one of the long-sought tools for battling pill mills -- even though it's already paid for.

When Health News Florida questioned the unexpected move this morning, governor's office spokeswoman Amy Graham confirmed it.

"He does not believe this is a function that is best performed by government," she wrote in an e-mail. She did not say who Scott thinks is best positioned to run the system.

The drug database, temporarily on hold because of a bid challenge by a losing vendor, would offer doctors and pharmacists a place to check whether prescriptions are authentic and whether patients are doctor-shopping for narcotics.

Scott's written suggestion, released with the budget late Monday, would repeal the law that set up both the drug database and the Office of Drug Control, which the new governor has already shut down.

Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who has been a leader in efforts to crack down on pill mills, was surprised by the proposal. He said he thinks lawmakers won't eliminate the database.

"It's going to save lives --- a lot of lives --- once it's fully implemented,'' Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said this morning.

Proponents of the drug database were left scratching their heads on Scott's intent, since the database wouldn't cost the state any money. Grant funds have been raised to pay for the first year of implementation and more is expected to roll in for future years.

In fact, law-enforcement authorities say it would potentially save the state money by reducing the number of illicit drug transactions, addictions and pharmacy robberies.

Proponents of the drug-monitoring database also mention the high death toll from patients who die of unintended drug overdoses, usually related to oxycontin or a mix of that narcotic with other drugs.

Drug-monitoring databases in other states have cut down on the proliferation of phony pain clinics, but Florida's lack of strong regulation has attracted drug dealers and addicts to the state, says Dave Aronberg, statewide prosecutor for pill mills in the Attorney General's office.

Aronberg, who is based in Broward, said his co-workers in Tallahassee were trying to find out what the governor has in mind.

When Scott released his budget proposal Monday, the repeal at first went unnoticed because it was included in what is known as a "conforming bill,'' a piece of legislation used to carry out details of a budget. The bill also addresses the issue only by citing the repeal of a statute number and doesn't provide any explanation.

Paul Sloan, president of the Florida Society of Pain Management Providers, called the proposal "unbelievable.''

"It's insanity to repeal it,'' said Sloan, who has been heavily involved in working on pain-clinic laws and regulations. "It's the most necessary tool in this whole issue. Nothing is more important than the prescription-drug monitoring program. Nothing.''

Sloan said 38 states have some sort of similar program. He said the databases help prevent "doctor shopping" by drug abusers.

The database, however, has always raised privacy concerns from some lawmakers.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders contributed to this report.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.