Florida Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, last week lashed out at a portion of Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal seeking to repeal the law authorizing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Fasano’s office continues to voice outrage about Scott’s proposal, this week firing back at a Scott aide for comments on the program Fasano has championed for nearly seven years.

Senate Bill 462 (.pdf) requires the state to establish a “statewide, comprehensive electronic system to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances,” aka the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP.

Calling Scott’s decision to repeal the program one “beyond [his] comprehension,” Fasano said last week in a press release that, without the program, the state would likely return to its days “as a haven for doctor-shopping and drug diversion.”

Fasano’s legislative aide, Greg Giordano, is also critiquing Scott’s proposal, refuting a recent email in which Scott’s communications director, Brian Burgess, responded to a recent Sun-Sentinel piece critical of Scott’s decision.

Giordano says the response, sent Monday afternoon to a Sun-Sentinel reporter, is rife with inaccuracies. “The governor’s side of the story is not accurate,” he says.

Burgess’ email accuses the reporter of inaccurate statements about the program’s cost:

Just thought you should know that Sen. Fasano previously introduced a bill calling for $1 million in state funds to pay for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database. Obviously you did not know that or you wouldn’t have written such an obvious falsehood that it ‘wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything.’

Giordano says Fasano never called for $1 million in state funds, claiming that he knew that the House wouldn’t approve the creation of the program if state dollars would be used.

“S.B. 462, filed in 2009, specifically said that no state dollars would be used to fund PDMP. I assume [Burgess] is referring to S.B. 818, which proposed to strike out the provision regarding state funds … but it didn’t aim to mandate the use of state funds,” Giordano says. “Instead, it would have made it an option. Fasano is termed out in 2012, so … it was a forward-thinking idea. Someday, maybe five years from now, if the money is available, then it can be used. I can’t say whether $1 million is how much the PDMP would cost, but I can say with certainty that Fasano never called for that.”

Burgess (who did not respond to an email requesting comment on this story) also claims that the program never got off the ground “because the so-called ‘private funding’ never materialized.”

Giordano says that, in fact, funding does exist — $1.2 million of it, from a combination of funds raised by the PDMP Foundation, which receives donations from nonprofits and private donors. “The project never materialized because of the bidding process,” he says. “There was an ongoing bid problem that was flawed and protested … but the money is there. It’s not working because it hasn’t had a chance to work.”

Burgess’ email also asserts that the program would have been redundant, and too difficult to regulate:

It was supposed to be privately funded, but nobody wants to pay for what already exists at all legitimate pharmacy chains already – like CVS and Walgreens. Do you really think unethical pill mills are going to self report? Of course not. Sure, it might reduce abuse by some individuals who visit legitimate pharmacies to fuel a drug habit, but it’ll do little to stop so-called “pill mills.”

Giordano says that the databases of pharmacies are useful, but ineffective, since they are not tied together to one database — which is precisely what the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program aims to be.

“Yes, CVS and Walgreens have a database, but they don’t communicate as one,” he says. “That’s the point of PMDP — to know if someone walking through the door has been doctor-shopping. The pill mills don’t report it; the pharmacies do. The vision of the PDMP was one in which a doctor can log onto a secure site, and see if a patient has ever been dispatched a medication elsewhere.”

And to Burgess’ final claim, that Gov. Scott is “committed to working with law enforcement and has teamed with Attorney General Pam Bondi to fast-track new rules to combat pill mills,” Giordano implies that talk is cheap: “That is simply not enough to get anything done.”

The relationship between Scott and Fasano has been strained lately. Fasano exchanged harsh words with the Scott team during a budget meeting last week, when he questioned the governor’s plan to shut down two state-run prisons. Though Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander later requested an apology for the line of questioning, Fasano refused, telling reporters that he found the Scott staff’s response to be “a bit childish.”

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