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House pain bill hits small pharmacies, distributors

Independent pharmacies – but not the big chains -- would be barred from selling addictive drugs under a new version of a House pain-clinic bill that passed the Judiciary Committee this morning.

HB 7095 already had some physicians distressed by proposing to make it a third-degree felony for doctors to dispense narcotics from their offices. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, added small pharmacies to the list of the aggrieved.

His amendment exempts corporate pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreen’s and independent pharmacies that have been around more than 10 years.

The amended bill, which also heightens scrutiny of distributors, passed the House Judiciary Committee this morning 12 to 6.

Schenck said the bill “is critical in shutting off the supply of dangerous controlled substances at its source” and would crack down on “doctor-dealers.”

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he approved of the bill’s “chop-off-the-head-of-the-snake approach.”

But Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, said the bill mistakenly wipes out regulations on the vast majority of overprescribers of addictive drugs and repeals the one tool that other states have successfully used to counter pill mills – an electronic database that would allow doctors to check on whether patients have been doctor-shopping.

Critics have noted that by wiping out existing rules, Schenck’s bill would once again make it legal for criminals to own pain clinics.

The Senate's version of the pain clinic bill preserves the existing laws, including the database, with modifications. Its sponsor, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was not happy about the new version of Schenck's bill, his aide said.

"What he has done is not only put legitimate pharmacies out of business, but created problems for rural communities that may not have a Walgreen's or CVS on every other street corner," said Greg Giordano.

The prescription drugs that doctors and small pharmacies would be barred frrm dispensing are those covered under Schedule 2 and 3 in the five-category classification of drugs under federal law.

Schedule 2 drugs include oxycodone and hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine. Schedule 3 drugs include sedatives and steroid compounds that are often abused by body builders.

Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin, are illegal and cannot be prescribed at all. Schedule 4 drugs have a lower potential for abuse, such as Xanax and Valium; and Schedule 5 drugs are the least dangerous, such as cough medicine containing codeine.

Pharmacies exempted from the new rules would be those:

--wholly owned by a corporation whose shares are traded on a recognized stock exchange;
--having more than $100 million in taxable business assets in the state;
--that have received state permits as “community pharmacies” for a period of 10 years.

After some members raised concerns that the bill would drive “mom-and-pop pharmacies” out of business, Schenck said he would confer with industry representatives to tweak the language.

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.