Florida Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, unveiled two new pill mill bills in today’s meeting of the House Health and Human Services Committee, including a measure that would would effectively end the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a statewide database that would track the use of controlled substances throughout Florida. Both bills passed a committee vote.

The second of Schenck’s bills aims to eliminate or reduce a doctor’s ability to distribute medicines, which he argues would be a better alternative to the Drug Monitoring Program, and strikes all references to pain-management clinics. If passed into law, the bill would force those businesses to close.

Gov. Rick Scott included a one-line mention of the Drug Monitoring Program in his budget proposal, recommending a rejection of the program. He has said that his concerns center on privacy and cost. Scott yesterday rejected a $1 million donation from Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, to help fund the database. The Drug Monitoring Program has already received a significant chunk of change from private donations and federal grants.  Purdue’s donation alone would cover costs for two years.

This latest twist in the Drug Monitoring Program saga further illustrates the seemingly nonsensical refusal of Scott to implement the database. Citing cost concerns when costs are already covered has done little to persuade the database’s supporters — which include several of the governor’s fellow Republicans — that the program is an undue burden on the state.

In a press release, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a staunch supporter of the Drug Monitoring Program, spoke out against Schenck’s bill: “This legislation as written is especially harmful to people of little means. … There does not appear to be any provisions for residents of rural communities that may have few health care options available to them. I have grave concerns that this legislation will have an adverse impact on the neediest of our state.”

After Thursday morning’s meeting, Fasano again spoke out, saying he was “extremely disappointed” that members of his own party voted for legislation to “allow felons to once again own pain clinics, that deregulates pill mills and removes the requirement that pain clinics be licensed and inspected.”

Port St. Lucie Vice Mayor Linda Bartz testified in Thursday’s hearing, highlighting her personal struggles with pill mills.

Bartz’s daughter was arrested in November 2010 for stealing and pawning thousands of dollars of her mother’s jewelry, after struggling with an addiction to pain pills prescribed to her following a car accident.

“I will not tell you that my daughter is not culpable for what she has done,” Bartz said. “But I will tell you that she was able to continue by doctor-shopping, by the pill mills that we have.” Bartz’s testimony ended in tears as she told the committee that she would ”fight to make sure that [her daughter] does not become one of the statistics.”

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, called Schenck’s bill “half-baked” in today’s hearing, saying that removing the Drug Monitoring Program would be a setback for Florida’s prescription drug epidemic.

Florida has become notorious as the epicenter of the prescription drug problem in the South. Florida currently sees an average of seven prescriptiondrug overdoses a day, and it houses more pill mills than it does McDonald’s. In 2009 alone, it distributed more than a half-billion doses of oxycodone.

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