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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 22, 201112:00 PM EST

House passes bill to take on pill mills


By Jim Saunders

The News Service of Florida

The Florida House overwhelmingly approved a plan Thursday to curb prescription-drug abuse, after offering a glimpse of how the “epidemic’’ is hitting their communities and families.

Reps. Rich Glorioso (R-Plant City) and Fred Costello (R-Ormond Beach) told the House that they have family members who have abused prescription drugs.

“I will tell you it’s devastating on everyone who comes in contact with it,’’ said Glorioso, who did not identify his family member but indicated the person was taking the painkiller Oxycontin.

In an emotional speech, the usually low-key Rep. John Legg (R-Port Richey) said prescription-drug abuse is “destroying our state.’’

“Once and for all, it is time that we kill this monster,’’ said Legg.

The House voted 116-1 to approve HB 7095, with only Rep. John Tobia (R-Melbourne) opposing it. The full Senate is ready to take up a bill (SB 818) that includes significant differences, and both chambers will have to agree on a final version.

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi immediately issued statements praising the House. Florida in recent years has become a magnet for prescription drug abuse, with “pill mills” popping up across the state.

“Today we are one step closer to giving law enforcement and regulators the tools they need to combat pill mills and prescription drug abuse in Florida,’’ said Bondi, who has made the issue one of her top priorities.

The House bill would place new restrictions on clinics, doctors, pharmacies and drug wholesalers. But in some ways, its passage Thursday was a turnaround from the House leadership’s position early in the legislative session.

At that time, House leaders and Scott called for scrapping a planned prescription-drug database because of concerns that it could infringe on privacy rights.

The database, which is aimed at better tracking sales of dangerous drugs, was approved in 2009 but was delayed by a bid dispute. It recently got the OK to start operating.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) opposed eliminating the database, and the issue also drew attention from officials as far away as Kentucky. That is because drug users and traffickers have traveled to Florida from other states to get supplies of painkillers.

The House bill will keep the database, though it also would ban drug manufacturers from contributing money to pay for the system. That worries some database supporters because lawmakers have refused to set aside state money for the system.

Drug-company Purdue Pharma recently offered to contribute $1 million to the database, an offer that would not be allowed under the House bill.

The bill also would take steps such as barring most doctors from dispensing two categories of controlled substances in their offices and clinics. That means patients would have to go to pharmacies to get the substances, curbing the ability of unscrupulous clinics to sell painkillers.

Another part of the bill sets up a new permitting process for pharmacies that want to sell the two categories of controlled substances. That process is designed to make sure shady clinics don’t create pharmacies to try to circumvent the ban on doctors dispensing dangerous drugs.

But pharmacies have raised concerns about that requirement, at least in part, because of a March 1, 2012, deadline for getting permits. They are concerned that would not leave enough time for the Department of Health to approve rules and issue permits.

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