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[UPDATE] Scott, Bondi Going After Docs, Pill Mills

By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida; AP; Governor's Press Office
By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida; AP; Governor's Press Office

[UPDATE] 3-29 10:35am -- THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE

As lawmakers remain divided about how to fight pill mills, Gov. Rick Scott on March 29 announced a statewide law-enforcement effort to stop what he described as the "Oxycontin express.''

Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will work with other state agencies and local police to coordinate regional crackdowns on the illegal sales of painkillers.

"We're going to change the direction of this,'' Scott said during a news conference in the Capitol. "This is not going to continue.''

Scott also at least partially endorsed a House proposal to prevent doctors from dispensing drugs in their offices. Scott, however, added a caveat that such a ban should include "appropriate" exceptions --- and didn't elaborate about what those exceptions might be.

Florida has become a magnet in recent years for drug abusers and traffickers from other states, as unscrupulous clinics and doctors have prescribed and sold massive amounts of drugs such as Oxycontin.

Pill mills also have become one of the most-controversial issue of this spring's legislative session, as Scott and House leaders call for scrapping a prescription-drug database that lawmakers approved in 2009 to help track painkiller sales.

A Senate committee Monday rejected a proposal to kill the database, which has not started operating. Senate Health Regulation Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, proposed the elimination because he argues the database could lead to invading the privacy of people who legitimately need controlled substances.

"Today, it's fine,'' said Garcia, who tried to add the database elimination to another bill dealing with pill mills. "But what happens in the future?''

But Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who was a leader in passing the database, said 34 other states have similar programs. Ultimately, the Health Regulation Committee rejected Garcia's proposal in a voice vote.

The committee, however, approved a bill that would make changes to prescription-drug laws passed during the past two years. For example, it would eliminate a ban on doctors dispensing more than a three-day supply of drugs to patients who pay with cash or credit cards.

Lawmakers said last year that such a ban would help prevent drug abusers from going to clinics with wads of cash and walking out with large supplies of drugs. But bill sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she is concerned about hindering legitimate dispensing of drugs.

Bogdanoff said she is trying to strike a "balance between legitimate pain-management doctors and drug dealers.''

Fasano, who said he has concerns about changing the 72-hour ban, also is moving forward with another bill that addresses pain clinics. Bogdanoff said she hopes to work with Fasano to reach agreement on a final bill.

Scott tried to stay away from the database issue during the news conference Monday, though he acknowledged the disagreement with the Senate and other supporters of the tracking system.

The new law-enforcement effort will include providing $800,000 to local police agencies to help pay for costs such as officer overtime. FDLE Commissioner Jerry Bailey said the money will come from leftover federal grant funds.

Bailey said a meeting will be held Tuesday in Orlando to start coordinating the effort, which will be broken up into seven regions. Along with local police, the effort will also involve officials from the Florida Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Flanked by police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors during the news conference, Scott said the prescription-drug problem involves a chain of players, including wholesalers.

"We should be able to figure out how to stop this,'' he said.

Bondi has been an outspoken supporter of stiffening criminal penalties to address the problem.

"We all recognize what a tremendous problem this is,'' she said.

_____________________________________

UPDATE 3-28

GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT ANNOUNCES COMPREHENSIVE STATEWIDE RESPONSE TO CRIMINAL DRUG TRAFFICKING IN FLORIDA

by Governor's Press Office

Tallahassee, FL -- March 28, 2011 -- Today, Governor Rick Scott announced a statewide law enforcement response for an immediate impact to the criminal distribution and abuse of drugs in Florida. With support from Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, the comprehensive plan will confront criminal drug trafficking in Florida, including, but not limited to, the criminal distribution of prescription drugs.

The Statewide Drug Strike Force will assist local law enforcement agencies by providing intelligence and analytical and investigative support. Commissioner Bailey will serve as the statewide coordinator of the strike force, and local strike teams will be co-led by Florida’s sheriffs and police chiefs.

Governor Scott directed that $800,000 in unused grant funds be made immediately available for local law enforcement investigative efforts. The funds will go to the local strike teams to support overtime and other expenses. In addition, he directed other agencies under his purview to support the strike force. The Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration will provide regulatory and licensing personnel, and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco will provide sworn investigators.

Governor Scott also announced the Florida Cabinet’s authorization of the Florida Highway Patrol’s participation, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater authorized investigators from the Division of Insurance Fraud to support the strike force.

Governor Scott’s plan addresses the multiple threats to public health and safety, including pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers, unscrupulous doctors, storefront pill mills masquerading as legitimate health clinics and street corner dealers. Each level provides an opportunity for law enforcement to intervene and stop the illegal flow of drugs into Florida communities.

“The numbers plainly show that Florida has a serious problem that demands a serious, coordinated law enforcement response,” Governor Scott stated. “Florida’s future is threatened by crimes involving drugs, and our local sheriffs and chiefs simply cannot continue to tackle this mounting issue alone.”

Members of Florida’s law enforcement community who joined Governor Scott for today’s announcement were:

Chief Peter Paulding, Gulf Breeze Police Department, and president of the Florida Police Chiefs
Chief George Turner, Brooksville Police Department
Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin, Tampa Police Department
Major Sophie Teague, Tampa Police Department
Chief Dennis Jones of the Tallahassee Police Department and third vice president for the Florida Police Chiefs Association
Chief Jim Troiano, High Springs Police Department, and Florida Police Chiefs Association district director
Chief David Perry, Florida State University Police Department
Chief Calvin Ross, Florida A&M University Police Department
Sheriff Harrell Reid, Hamilton County, and president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association
Sheriff Bob White, Pasco County
Sheriff Donald Eslinger, Seminole County
Steve Casey, Florida Sheriff’s Association Executive Director
Julie Jones, Director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
Buddy Jacobs, State Attorney Association

Background information:

98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing oxycodone nationally are in Florida – concentrated in the Miami, Tampa, and Orlando regions.
126 million pills of oxycodone are dispensed through Florida pharmacies – most in or near Tampa, Orlando, and Miami regions.
By far, more oxycodone is dispensed in the state of Florida than in the remaining states combined.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- March 28, 2011 --

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi are turning Florida's law enforcement agencies loose on unscrupulous doctors and pharmacies that are illegally distributing prescription drugs in unmatched amounts to addicts and drug dealers.

Scott is using $800,000 in residual federal law enforcement
money to create a strike force to crack down on the so-called
"pill mills" that have given the state a deserved, but unwanted
reputation as the haven for anyone looking for these drugs -- namely
oxycodone.

Scott pointed to a statistic on Monday that 98 of the 100
leading dispensers of these drugs nationally are doctors who reside
in Florida. He's also bringing in several other state agencies to
assist the Department of Law Enforcement with the investigation
into the trafficking of prescription drugs.

Statement Regarding Statewide Drug Strike Force

by CFO Jeff ATwater's Press Office

Statement Regarding Statewide Drug Strike Force

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater today released the following statement commending Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi for creating the Statewide Drug Strike Force.

“Pill mills have become a widespread epidemic in Florida, and it is going to take a coordinated approach to combat the glorified drug dealers who are taking over our state. I commend Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi for creating the Statewide Drug Strike Force, and I am committed to collaborating and providing the expertise of the Division of Insurance Fraud to assist in this crackdown on pill mills.”


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