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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
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Lawmakers give financial support to drug database

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TAMPA -

For the first time since its creation, Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program is getting support from the state Legislature.

The show of approval comes in the form of a $500,000 appropriation by lawmakers, enough money to keep the embattled database up and running for at least another year.

State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has sponsored bills in favor of the drug database for four years, said the money came at the right time.

“Otherwise, the prescription drug monitoring program would be on life support,” Fasano said.

Dave Bowen, the chairman of the foundation that manages the monitoring program, said the database had $170,000 in its coffers before lawmakers approved the budget May 3.

The annual cost to simply run and maintain the program is about $500,000, he said.

“It’s a tremendous blessing,” Bowen said. “We’re funded for the next year.”

The $500,000 appropriation is a one-time payment, said Fasano, who co-sponsored a measure that would have ensured the database was funded by the state every year.

But the measure died during this year’s legislative session and Fasano and other database advocates had to settle for the one-time funding.

“Five hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money,” Fasano said. “But when you’re talking about a $75 billion budget and we can’t find half a million dollars every year to save lives, that’s disappointing.”

Florida lawmakers have never before budgeted money for the database, which tracks prescriptions of pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone across the state to identify drug addicts, prevent people from doctor shopping and stop the illegal trafficking of narcotic-grade medication.

Since its launch in 2011, the Electronic Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation program, or E-FORCSE, was funded only through donations and grants.

Gov. Rick Scott initially opposed the tracking system, saying it was an invasion of privacy. But Attorney General Pam Bondi and several GOP legislators pushed for it to be included in a bill that toughened laws regulating pharmacies and pain clinics.

Scott approved the launch of the tracking system on the condition that it receives no money from the state budget and that no pharmaceutical companies can donate to the program.

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet signed House Bill 1159, which includes the $500,000 appropriation for the database.

He could veto it, but Fasano said he thinks that’s a remote possibility because the bill also includes legislation for cancer treatments and assisted living facilities.

At the time of the tracking system’s launch, prescription drug addiction and abuse had become an epidemic in Florida, and Tampa was a hub for the illicit trafficking of pain killers, authorities said.

Fasano and other advocates said the lack of a statewide database and Florida’s once-lax laws attributed to an increase in the number of so-called “pill mills,” storefront clinics that dispensed massive doses of painkillers.

Now, pharmacists and other health care professionals who prescribe narcotic-grade medication have seven days after the painkillers are dispensed to patients to report the information to the database.

Only doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officers working an active investigation can access the online database.

About 56 million prescription records have been entered into the database since it launched, according to the state Department of Health’s annual report on the program.

A decrease in oxycodone deaths over the past year shows the database is working, Fasano said.

According to the state Medical Examiner’s Office, there were 215 fewer oxycodone overdose deaths in the first six months of 2012 compared to the first six months of 2011, a 35 percent decrease.

Bowen said concrete data that showed the database is working helped lawmakers decide to fund it this year.

“They’re starting to see its value,” Bowen said. “People are starting to see that this is a tool that’s been saving lives.”


rreyes@tampatrib.com

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