Free Drug Zone

All it takes to get a sense there’s a problem with pain pills here in Florida is to have a necessary, legal prescription. Try to get it filled at a CVS or Walgreens, and you run up against a lot of “We don’t have it” and “We don’t know when we’re getting it in” and “No, we can’t call another store for you.” It took 5 trips to 4 pharmacies to get what the doctor ordered to mitigate the excruciating pain I suffered after slipping on a set of stairs and bashing up my lower back.

When I posted my plight on FB, a friend pointed me to the NYT. That same day, there had been a front-page article about the proliferation of painkiller-related crime across the country:

More than 1,800 pharmacy robberies have taken place nationally over the last three years, typically conducted by young men seeking opioid painkillers and other drugs to sell or feed their own addictions. The most common targets are oxycodone (the main ingredient in OxyContin), hydrocodone (the main ingredient in Vicodin) and Xanax.


In sheer numbers, Florida, Indiana, California, Ohio and Washington have had the most armed robberies of pharmacies since January 2008, according to the D.E.A.

Here in Florida, I’ve learned addicts also have an alternative. They go to pill mills which the Wall Street Journal describes as “shady storefront operations that provide a bounty of prescription drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrodone, for addicts and traffickers.” According to the WSJ, the state passed a law in 2009 to set up a tracking system which “would include a centralized database to help identify buyers who are accumulating large numbers of pills and the doctors who are overprescribing them.” But in true Rick Scott fashion, public health and safety take a back seat to money, and Scott’s got some flimsy excuses for wanting to scrap the program, citing quetions about effectiveness, patient privacy, and cost. The Miami Herald:

But 34 states already have such programs up and running and say they don’t have the kind of problems Scott fears.


“I don’t think your governor understands the impact Florida’s pill mills are having outside the state,’’ said Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.

“If there’s no prescription drug monitoring program in Florida, I’m toying with putting a billboard just over your state line that says ‘Welcome to the Oxy-tourism Capital of the World.’”

Bruce Grant, who led the Florida Governor’s Office of Drug Control under former governor Charlie Crist, said care was taken to address concerns in the three areas Scott has cited.

His office secured $1.2-million from nonprofits, private donations and federal grants so state money would not be used. As for privacy, the information in the database would be protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which safeguards patient confidentiality.

Chris Baumgartner of the Alliance of States with Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs said the 34 state programs all have “a very good track record’’ for privacy and cost control. On average, the programs cost $500,000 a year to operate, he said.

Fred Grimm sums up Scott’s stance on pill mills in a strong opinion piece today:

The governor has managed to make himself the political ally of oxy addicts and drug dealers and the woman who drove her red Cobalt all the way from South Carolina. And he has managed to offend a constituency with a powerful, emotional message, while unwittingly lending his face to Florida’s shadowy trade in oxycodone, millions of pills sold in sham clinics, much of it for illicit resale.

I get the sense Scott’s against anything that regulates anything, I mean, who needs rules when you know firsthand you can make hundreds of millions of dollars running a company that systematically breaks them?

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