Gil Kerlikowske, the White House 'drug czar,' urged Fla. governor Rick Scott to reinstate a prescription drug-monitoring database he axed in this year's state budget, The Associated Press reported Feb. 23. The governor refused, even as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local law enforcement announced raids on multiple pain clinics in south Florida.
As Join Together reported Feb. 18, “pill mills” are pain clinics that sell pain medications to people shopping for narcotics. Pill mill databases — which allow pharmacists and law enforcement officials to keep track of prescriptions — have been established in 42 states to prevent “doctor shopping” and to quickly identify doctors who are passing out prescription medication illegally.
Kerlikowske was in Kentucky at the invitation of Republican state senator Mitch McConnell, who is concerned about the impact of drug abuse on the state budget. Kentucky officials — along with officials from West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio — have all said that residents from their states travel to Florida to obtain prescription pain medications illegally.
The governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear, sent Gov. Scott a letter asking him to reinstate the pill mill database. “Some Kentucky authorities estimate that 60 percent of the area's illegal prescription pills come from Florida,” he wrote, “and the Kentucky State Police arrested over 500 people in 2009 from eastern Kentucky who had traveled to Florida for this purpose.”
Kerlikowse said Florida's pill mills were “a direct pipeline to pills being supplied here in Kentucky and is [sic] directly responsible for the deaths of people here in Kentucky.”
“People don't recognize that prescription drugs can kill you,” he said. “They don't recognize that prescription drugs are highly addictive. They often think they're safe because after all it's just a prescription.”
Scott said he would not change his mind on the database. A spokesman said he was concerned about its $500,000 cost and maintaining patient privacy.
The Florida legislature directed the state office of drug control to create the database in 2009 using private funds, not tax dollars. After the office raised the money from private sources and was ready to implement the database, it was eliminated in one of Scott's first acts as governor.
According to news reports, an average of seven people a day in Florida die from prescription drug overdoses.
In related news, the South Florida Business Journal reported Feb. 23 that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local Florida law enforcement raided numerous pain clinics in south Florida, charging 18 people, including six doctors. The U.S. Attorney Wilfred Ferrer said it was only a wave in an ongoing undercover operation begun 2009 called “Operation Pill Nation,” in which, the paper said, “more than 340 undercover officers obtained narcotics from over 60 doctors at over 40 pain clinics in Florida.”
“If you are working in a pill mill,” said DEA agent Mark Trouville, “we have probably bought dope from you and we are probably coming to see you soon.”