A recent surge in pharmacy applications in the state of Florida could spell trouble for the state’s notorious prescription drug problem. A recently implemented prescription drug monitoring database (also known as E-FORCSE) was put in place to monitor doctor-shopping and to hopefully crackdown on so-called “pill mills,” which have run rampant in the Sunshine State.

According to new information released by the DEA, Florida has been the source of half of the entire nation’s new applications for small, independent pharmacy licenses in the past few months. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration received 217 applications for new pharmacies (not including chain pharmacies) from Jan. 1 to June 30, a big jump from 159 applications during the same time last year. During the same period in 2009, the number was 127.

“Although population growth would account for some of the increase, it is hard to ignore the correlation between the rise in applications and the implementation (and impending implementation) of the doctor dispensing ban,” says Greg Giordano, chief legislative aide for state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who championed the drug database long before its implementation.

Though he fully supports independent pharmacies, Fasano says he is concerned that pill mill operators who are no longer able to dispense may be the source of at least some of the new applications.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s former drug czar, Bruce Grant, remarked that pill mill operators aren’t likely to simply give up the lucrative pain pill business. “These folks are not just going to fold up their tents and go home,” he said. “They are going to figure out ways to continue to operate.”

Fasano will continue to monitor the trend into the upcoming legislative session and plans on filing legislation, if needed, to correct any problems in Florida statute that may help address non-legitimate pharmacy applications, says Giordano. The Department of Health has indicated that it is closely monitoring the applications and will provide guidance as needed.

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