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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 9 years ago

Track pain pills, save lives

Lately there's been a surge of regulations passed as the pain pill epidemic shifts to Central Florida

A Tennessean drives 12 hours to a Central Florida city — maybe Maitland or Winter Park — and buys $900 worth of oxycodone from a local pharmacy. Then he sells the pills, and one of his buyers overdoses and dies. And the cycle repeats.

Lately there’s been a surge of regulations approved on county and city levels as the center of the pain pill epidemic shifts from South Florida to Central Florida. But the state needs to help its municipalities by implementing a narcotics database.

In Florida, seven people die every day of prescription drug overdoses, according to law enforcement officials. Orange County leaders, realizing the scope of the problem, enacted a one-year moratorium on new pain management clinics — called “pill mills.” Orlando followed suit, also imposing a moratorium and other restrictions on the businesses.

Maitland — which doesn’t have any pain clinics — approved an ordinance on Jan. 10 that limits the sale of narcotics at its pharmacies to 20 percent per month and requires the buyer to provide two forms of ID. It goes one step further: if the buyer is from out of state, the pharmacist must speak with the doctor listed on the prescription to confirm it.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Police Chief Doug Ball said the ordinance is already working. Walgreens has even placed a sign in its pharmacy alerting customers to the new rules. Police have been called to the embattled Maitland Prescription Shoppe only once since the ordinance was approved on Jan. 10. From January to October 2010, police were called 104 times to the plaza where the pharmacy is located, Ball said.

But cities such as Maitland are screaming, “A little help here?” as their big brother, the State Legislature, drags its feet on implementing a pain pill database — which was approved in 2009 and would monitor drug transactions statewide. Now, Gov. Rick Scott is looking to kill the measure, saying Monday to reporters: “I don’t think it’s the state’s responsibility. I don’t think it’s something the state ought to be doing, tracking everybody’s … drug interactions.”

But it wouldn’t be for all drugs — only powerful medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and other opiates. And it would only be accessible to the pharmacists, which have taken a Hippocratic oath to protect their patients’ information.

The governor says the state should instead focus on Attorney General Pam Bondi’s push to regulate doctors and the pill mills, making it harder for them to dole out unlimited drugs. That’s a worthy measure too — a perfect accompaniment to the database, which has about $1 million worth of private funds and federal grants to get off the ground. If public money has to be used in the future to keep it going, that’s something the Legislature should consider. It’s about saving lives.

Currently, 42 states have authorized similar monitoring systems and 38 are in operation. Florida is the largest state without one. It’s no wonder why Florida has become the biggest source of narcotic pills in the Southeast.

While the city and county efforts are a start, the state needs to implement the database. Once that happens, the people coming from Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky will go elsewhere. As of now, they’re just moving within the state. Now that Orange County has blockades on obtaining large volumes of prescriptions, the dealers go to Seminole County instead.

The pain pill problem will plague Florida — and kill its residents — until the Legislature steps up.

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