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Few doctors speak up for database

Ever since Gov. Rick Scott said a week ago that he wanted to kill the state’s planned prescription drug monitoring program, medical groups in the state have been strangely silent.

The Florida Medical Association – the same group that made passage of the monitoring program a top issue and helped pass it in 2009 – now says “no comment.”

A similar lack of response came from some members of the state’s medical boards who just last August asked state officials to strengthen the law to require pain-clinic doctors to use the database.

But at least two aren’t afraid to speak out in strong favor of the drug-monitoring project. They say the epidemic of painkiller addiction in Florida is deadly and action against it long overdue.

“How many of Florida’s children will we lose before we solve this issue?” asks Allan Escher, D.O., a former chair and still-serving member of the Board of Osteopathic Medicine. A specialist in pain management at University of South Florida, he wants to see the field cleaned up.

George Thomas, vice chair of the Board of Medicine, said he and his colleagues have supported the monitoring program all along because it is “consistent with the central mission of the board – protecting and promoting public health and safety of Floridians.”

Escher says opponents’ claims that the monitoring project invades individuals’ privacy is misguided. Describing himself as “a libertarian and a Republican,” Escher said, “I very much believe in the right to privacy, but there are (certain things) in society where government has a role to play for public health and safety.”

If anything, the drug database law passed by the 2009 Legislature needs to be stronger, not weaker, Escher said. He favors the Kentucky model, considered the gold standard among more than 40 states that have implemented monitoring programs.

In the Florida law, a pharmacist would have up to 15 days to record the filling of prescriptions for certain government-controlled drugs that have strong addictive potential and can be dangerous.

Physicians would then have a place to check before writing prescriptions for narcotics, making sure that patients aren’t already getting them from another doctor.

Grants were found to set up the project, which was supposed to become operational in December but got snagged in a vendor bidding dispute. Then, last week, the new governor issued budget materials calling for repeal of the law.

He gave no reason at the time, but since then has said he thinks it isn’t appropriate for government to monitor individuals’ prescriptions. Several powerful lawmakers have jumped on Scott’s bandwagon: Sen. Joe Negron, chair of the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services; House Health and Health Services Committee Chair Rob Schenck; and Senate Health Regulation Chairman Rene Garcia.

Schenck told HNF last week that the project struck him as “Big Brother.” Similarly, Garcia told HNF that he views the database as an "intrusion of privacy" and worries how the information could eventually be used.

"Who knows what will happen with that database in the future?'' asked Garcia, R-Hialeah.

But Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said Monday he thinks the state needs to move ahead with the database. He said during an interview with HNF and another news organization that "lives are being destroyed.''

--Capitol Bureau Chief Jim Saunders contributed to this report. Carol Gentry, Editor, can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail at carol.gentry@healthnewsflorida.org.