Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, today announced a piece of legislation “to crack down” on Florida’s pill mills. If enacted, the law will “double the penalties and triple the fines for drug violators” and use assets seized to fund prescription drug databases in states like Florida. According to a press release, it will also “reclassify one of the most abused and deadly narcotics to make it more difficult to obtain.”

Florida has become a hotbed for prescription drug addiction and overdoses: It is home to at least 1,300 pill mills and more pain clinics than McDonald’s. Statistics such as that led to the implementation of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which would track the state’s network of pharmacies, pain clinics and so-called “doctor shoppers.” The program, nicknamed “PDMP,” was signed into law by then-gov. Charlie Crist in June 2009, and supported by former Attorney General Bill McCollum and former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

But in the unveiling of his budget bill, Gov. Rick Scott announced his bid to repeal the program — saying it was too costly and would infringe on the privacy of Floridians. Supporters of the Drug Monitoring Program have come out hard against Scott’s announcement, saying his reasoning is flawed.

According to the Florida Pain Clinic Society, funds raised through private and federal grants, as well as donations, amount to over $1.3 million already. Projected costs to operate the program total approximately $1.2 million in its first two years.

As for the claims that the program would be a liability to privacy, the society again disagrees:

The PDMP does not disclose medical records; there are no diagnosis or physician notes in the database and most importantly it only monitors the prescribing of approximately 200 prescription medications (out of 13,000). There are no true psychiatric or other potentially embarrassing medications that are recorded in the database.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has long championed the implementation of a state Drug Monitoring Program, said Scott’s decision was “beyond his comprehension.” Both Attorney General Pam Bondi and Senate President Mike Haridopolis have also come out in support of the program.

In addition to toughening federal penalties for pill mill operators, Buchanan’s bill stipulates that assets seized from violators be sold and the proceeds used, in part, to fund drug monitoring databases in the states. In one drug raid last month, more than $25 million worth of property was seized in one day.

Fasano recently filed his own pill mill asset seizure bill (Senate Bill 1238) that would place money into the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund, which is used to help victims recoup costs due to a crime committed upon them. Greg Giordano, Fasano’s chief legislative assistant, called Buchanan’s legislation “a great idea.”

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