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Scott calls for tighter federal regulation on pill manufacturers

Gov. Rick Scott, whose mantra throughout his campaign and early months in office has been deregulation, today called on Congress to tighten federal restrictions on companies that make and sell addictive prescription drugs.

Scott offered two other surprises: He said a family member had a serious addiction and bragged about Florida's current crackdown on its pain-pill problem -- including the drug database he long opposed.

Told of the testimony, database supporter Claude Shipley said, "You've got to be kidding. Was that Gov. Scott up there?"

Scott mentioned his addicted relative in a question-and-answer session, without elaboration. He said the family member was “addicted his whole life – he never beat it.” He didn’t say what the addictive substance was.

Scott made his comments before a hearing on the “growing danger of prescription drug diversion,” held by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade. His prepared remarks had not specifically mentioned tighter federal regulation of drug companies, instead calling for a coordinated effort all along the distribution chain.

After describing the severe problems that Florida has had with the over-prescribing of narcotics to addicts and drug dealers, Scott answered a question about what Washington could do to help states by replying: “regulating these manufacturers.”

“Why are they even able to sell these things?” Scott asked, rhetorically. “Should there should be a much more limited use?”

It wasn’t a slip of the tongue, because a few minutes later Scott again called for federal regulation: “There ought to be restrictions on what these drugs can be used for, prescribed (for).”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack had asked Scott to appear along with Kentucky’s Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beshear and other Kentucky officials have been sharply critical of Scott’s earlier position opposing a prescription drug monitoring program. Scott had said such a database would be an invasion of privacy.

Given the tension between the two states, Bono Mack said she had expected “sparks” between Beshear and Scott. Instead, all was harmony, as Scott did an about-face.

Without mentioning his earlier opposition, Scott said the drug database will now be rolled out after being held up by a “lawsuit,” an allusion to an appeal by the losing vendor. That case was resolved last week.

That cleared the way for the Department of Health to begin work, which Surgeon General Frank Farmer – a Scott appointee – authorized last Friday.

Scott said Florida will use lessons learned by early-adopter states like Kentucky in building a database that helps prevent “doctor-shopping” by addicts and dealers, while being as secure as possible from hackers.

Scott's change of position mirrored that of state House leaders, who on Tuesday unveiled an 86-page rewrite of an earlier bill that had called for repeal of the drug database and regulations on pain clinics adopted in previous years.

By accepting the database and other regulations, the House made it more likely that its own tweaks to the law will make it through the Legislative session, set to end May 6. They would bar doctors from dispensing two categories of controlled substances in their offices and would set up a new permitting process for pharmacies.

In his prepared remarks, Scott called for a coordinated effort to stop the flood of pills all along the distribution chain. “Together, if we hold the manufacturers, wholesalers, doctors and pharmacies accountable, we can win this fight,” he said.

He praised Florida Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi's leadership on the issue, and she issued a release returning the favor. She also praised the Florida Legislature for bills pending there, which she said offer "the tools we need to stop pill mills."

Bondi also called for Congress to pass "The Pill Mill Crackdown Act of 2011," by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Bradenton.

Scott's call for tighter regulation did not specify which manufacturers or which drugs he meant.

But his comments came in answers to questions from Bono Mack about the dangers of OxyContin, which she said was the equivalent of “heroin.”

Bono Mack complimented Scott for his refusal to accept a $1 million grant from Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, that would have supported development of the drug database.

Scott said the funding would come from other private sources.

--Carol Gentry, Editor, can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail. Letters to the Editor are welcome.