Gov. Rick Scott and state Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, have, for the past few months, been allies in the fight against a statewide Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. But in a matter of days, both men have drastically changed position — Scott testifying on Capitol Hill on the need for harsher regulations in the fight against prescription drugs and Schenck offering an amendment that would allow for the implementation of a pill-monitoring database in Florida.

Since being sworn in, Scott has been adamant about his position that a state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (aka PDMP) would be an infringement on the privacy of Floridians, and too costly to implement. But last Thursday, in a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives on the growing danger of prescription drug diversion, Scott embraced the Drug Monitoring Program and pledged to work with other states to solve the ever-growing pain pill problem.

During the hearing, Scott touted his recently unveiled “strike force” against pill mills, saying it had already led to one drug-trafficking arrest (ironically, of a South Florida sheriff deputy). When he originally announced the creation of the strike force, he reiterated his opposition to the Drug Monitoring Program, but in Thursday’s hearing said the state needs tougher penalties for “manufacturers and distributors who fail to help us turn off the illegal supply chain.”

Later, on radio station WFPL, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said that Scott had assured him of plans to initiate a Drug Monitoring Program in Florida. Kentucky has seen some of the casualties of Florida’s prescription drug epidemic, and many believe that a proactive steps in Florida would lead to alleviation of prescription drug deaths elsewhere.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a vocal proponent of a statewide Drug Monitoring Program, has long maintained that it is the only viable option for the state. Last week, his bill that would enhance penalties for pill mill operators and require that physicians be trained in the use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program passed the Senate budget committee.

“The Florida Senate has made it clear that the bad actors in the practice of pain management will be treated harshly once they are identified,” said Fasano in a press release. “Through the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and the regulation of pill mills, unscrupulous dispensers and prescribers of controlled substances will be put out of business.”

State Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, also reversed his stance on the Drug Monitoring Program. Schenck initially sponsored two bills aimed at Florida’s prescription drug dilemma — one that would disallow doctors from dispensing prescription meds, and another that would eliminate the Drug Monitoring Program entirely. Last week, Schenck offered a strike-all amendment to the former (H.B. 7095) that would allow for the creation of the Drug Monitoring Program. It passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously and will likely reach the House floor sometime this week.

Though the Drug Monitoring Program is set to move forward, some still have concerns regarding the database’s funding. Gov. Scott rejected a $1 million offer last month from the maker of Oxycontin, Purdue Pharma, to go toward funding the PDMP. Schenck has also remained adamant that no state monies or big-pharma dollars will go toward funding the Drug Monitoring Program, and it will operate entirely on private donations.

In an interview with Hernando Today, Paul Sloan, president of the Florida Society of Pain Management, said the funding issue still has him concerned:

He said judging from the “devil in the details,” the House bill is still aimed to kill the PDMP.

“Interesting how all reports have claimed the House has dropped its opposition to the PDMP when in fact they are moving to cut off its funding sources,” said Sloan.

Greg Giordano, Sen. Fasano’s chief legislative aide, says that Sloan’s point is valid. “Limiting funding sources could be problematic for the future of the PDMP,” says Giordano. “Sen. Fasano specifically said, from the beginning, that state monies would not be used to fund the PDMP. But there is a provision in S.B. 818 that would allow for state dollars.”

According to Giordano, Fasano would consider mirroring Schenck’s provision disallowing state funding, provided there are other, feasible funding sources.

With no money from big pharma and no state dollars, the Drug Monitoring Program would have to rely solely on private donations and federal grants, and one grant program that the Senate has looked to as a source for funds could now be in jeopardy.

The federal government sent out a National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act (aka NASPER) ”funding update” last Friday, which stated: “Congress has passed a spending bill that President Obama is expected to sign later today and includes the following provision. … No funds shall be available for the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting system.” [Emphasis added.]

Later that day, another announcement, essentially saying that the status of NASPER funding is still up in the air:

In follow up to today’s earlier email regarding NASPER funding, we have had additional discussions with representatives from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on this matter.

SAMHSA cannot officially announce at this time that NASPER is not funded, therefore, unless or until we receive a more formal announcement or guidance from SAMHSA we would recommend that states that had intended to submit an application consider proceeding and adhere to the deadline of April 22, 2011 in the event that there is any last minute change. We will continue to closely monitor these developments and will keep you apprised.

Giordano says that Drug Monitoring Program supporters are concerned by the lack of funding sources for the database, but are still staunchly behind the program: “With the possibility of NASPER funds going away, and no Pharma money … it definitely raises some questions.”

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