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Senate Bill Eyes Rules for Pain Docs

By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida
By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 9, 2011 --

Florida's confusing pill-mill politics got even more convoluted Wednesday, as a Senate committee moved toward approving new rules for doctors who practice in pain-management clinics.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee introduced a bill that would ratify clinic rules approved by the Florida Board of Medicine. The move came just two days after House leaders said they wanted to eliminate such regulations.

"There's no doubt that the Senate and House have very different approaches,'' said former Sen. Dave Aronberg, special counsel to Attorney General Pam Bondi on the pill-mill issue.

A top House committee will meet Thursday morning to discuss its proposal, which is spread over two bills. That plan would do away with the clinic regulations and a planned prescription-drug database. Instead, it would ban doctors from dispensing controlled substances in their offices.

Adding to the political stew, drug-maker Purdue Pharma offered Wednesday to provide $1 million over two years to help operate the prescription-drug database. Purdue makes OxyContin, one of the painkillers blamed for the state's pill-mill problem.

But even with the offer, Gov. Rick Scott reiterated his opposition to the database because of privacy concerns.

"I don’t want to be participating in things that are only funded for a very short time and then (have) the expectation that the state pick up the tab," Scott said.

The governor's opposition to the database has reopened a wide-ranging debate about how the state should crack down on clinics that have become notorious for supplying dangerous drugs to addicts and traffickers.

After years of effort, lawmakers approved regulations in 2009 and 2010 requiring clinics and physicians' offices that treat many pain patients to register as pain clinics and undergo state inspections. They directed the boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine to come up with rules governing the conduct of clinic doctors.

Those rules --- and many other types of state regulations --- have been on hold because of a new requirement that they receive legislative ratification before they can take effect.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee introduced a bill Wednesday that began that ratification process. Procedurally, the bill will have to come back to the committee for a vote before advancing further in the Senate.

Committee Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, shares Scott's opposition to the prescription-drug database because of privacy issues. But he said he backs the Board of Medicine rules and other regulations that lawmakers have approved.

"I still have issues with the database,'' Garcia said. "With all (of the) other components of what we're trying to do with the pain clinics, I'm totally in favor of that.''

Kimberly Case, a legislative aide to the attorney general, said Bondi also thinks ratifying the Board of Medicine rules is "critical.''

"Right now, basic standards are not in place at pain clinics,'' Case told the Senate committee.

But the House proposal would erase new regulations on clinics, including the Board of Medicine rules.

The House's approach centers on banning doctors from dispensing drugs to patients and requiring that prescriptions get filled at pharmacies. House leaders argue the ban would cut off the pill-mill abuses and end the need for the regulations.


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