Florida has taken steps to combat its prescription drug abuse problem, but the funding still hasn’t arrived

By | 06.01.10 | 8:30 am

The Florida Medical Examiners Report for 2008 shows that every day six people die from prescription drug overdoses, and the president’s first National Drug Control Strategy, released earlier this month, acknowledges that prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.

To combat Florida’s pill problem, Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program into law last June. But a lack of funding has prevented the law — which will create an electronic database for controlled substances that pharmacists and physicians can consult when giving out new prescriptions — from making a dent in Florida’s prescription drug abuse numbers.

“The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is long overdue,” says Bruce Grant, the director of the Florida Office of Drug Control. “It’ll have a tremendous impact, but it’s not a silver bullet.”

Grant explains how the program will work: “Let’s say you go to the doctor for severe back pain and get a prescription because the pain can only be treated with oxycodone, a controlled opioid that has potential addictive properties. The pharmacist types the prescription information into the database. If you’re an unscrupulous doctor shopper, or a senior citizen who forgets you’ve already had your medication refills, and you seek another within 30 days your name pops up, the database catches chronic or repeat offenders.”

Grant acknowledges that the way to deal with businesses writing illegal prescriptions was a gap left in the 2009 law.

“The pill-mill bill enacted this year will flag prescribers that go beyond medical safety standards and it will be up to the Department of Health to determine how much is too much,” Grant says.

The other arm of the program is The PDMP Foundation — a nonprofit authorized under the 2009 law as a Direct Support Organization for the PDMP.

Grant appointed James Slattery as chairman of The PDMP Foundation on May 17. Slattery is the CEO of Millennium Laboratories, a drug testing company based in San Diego, Calif. The company website boasts that Millennium “provides the fastest turn-around time in the industry for drug test reporting and confirmation of results” and that the company can “also assist you in addressing the therapeutic aspects of patient care.”

“Lead by James Slattery the foundation is a six-member volunteer board that works to raise funds for salaries, database and other costs of the PDM Program,” says Grant. “The Florida legislature did not grant funds for the PDMP due to a tight budget. It was not a priority.”

We contacted State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the bill that created the PDMP, to ask why the program became law without state funding.

“It is much harder to get funds for new programs,” says Gregory Giordano, Fasano’s chief legislative assistant. “In this economic climate the PDMP was created with the understanding that it would not receive state funds.”

Florida Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, who sponsored the House version of the bill, was also contacted but did not respond to calls or emails.

“The Program will need $1 million from June 2009 through June 2011 for training, contracting, salaries and startup,” Grant says. “A database has to be created; personnel must be contracted and trained. The Department of Health reviews the Request for Proposals to outsource this work to private or nonprofit companies that show the ability to do it and reduce costs. Then we need at least $450,000 a year to operate.”

An Office of Drug Control document indicates that the foundation had raised at least $150,000 as of February. The organization meets on June 8 for an update on fundraising efforts.

“We already have $400,000 of federal money granted in October 2009 and have already applied for enhancement grants for another $400,000,” Grant says.

These funds put the program very close to its goal to raise $1 million goal in 2010. The PDMP must be operational by law on Dec. 1 of this year.

[Pic via flickr.com/photos/59334544@N00]

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