Fla. prescription database goes into operation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) ? Florida’s prescription drug tracking system finally was up and running Thursday after overcoming a series of political, legal and financial obstacles.

It’s part of the state’s effort to crack down on “pill mills” that supply painkillers to drug dealers and addicts, many if not most coming from out of state.

Law enforcement officials say Florida has become the nation’s epicenter of prescription drug abuse at least in part because most other states already have monitoring programs.

Florida is the 36th state to create one, and 12 more have enacted legislation to do the same, said Rebecca Poston, the system’s program director in the Department of Health.

“Everything is working wonderful,” Poston said. “I have not heard of any glitches related to the dispensers registering or uploading information in the system.”

It first was hampered by a lack of state funding and was forced to rely, instead, on federal grants and private contributions.

Then, it was delayed several months by a contract challenge.

Finally, Gov. Rick Scott tried to kill it with help from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. The Republican governor relented in the face of opposition from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other senators who refused to repeal the 2010 law that created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

Scott had questioned the system’s effectiveness and said he was worried it might invade patients’ privacy.

The database became operational at the stroke of midnight, but as of mid-day Poston wasn’t sure if it contained any information. That’s because doctors and pharmacists have seven days to submit information on each prescription for drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Valium that contain controlled substances.

The state, though, is asking them to voluntarily file information on prescriptions dating to Dec. 1, 2010, when the law creating the system went into effect.

Also, the department will not begin registering doctors and pharmacists until Oct 1, nor will they be able to get information out of the database until Oct. 17.

Doctors and pharmacists must be registered to check on patients’ prescription histories before prescribing drugs or filling prescriptions. If they see something suspicious they can report it to law enforcement.

Authorities, though, can ask the Health Department for prescription information only if needed for an “active investigation.”

“That’s the key buzzword,” Poston said.

The program has received two federal justice assistance grants totaling $800,000 as well as $42,000 from the nonprofit National Association of State Controlled Substances Authorities and $240,660 in private donations raised by the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation.

That’s enough to keep the program running through next June 30, the end of the current budget year, Poston said.

She said the program is seeking additional federal funding and will ask the foundation for more money to keep it going for a second year. The Legislature, though, made the foundation’s job a bit harder this year by prohibiting it from accepting donations from pharmaceutical companies.

That blocked a $1 million donation offered by Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, one of the most widely abused painkillers.