Should doctors be charged with murder when their prescriptions are linked to fatal overdoses?
It's one idea being considered in Central Florida as local officials and law-enforcement agencies wrestle with the prescription-drug epidemic sweeping the state.
In the absence of clear direction — or action — fromTallahassee, "we've got to deal with this ourselves," Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation Director Phil Williams recently told a group made up of Orange County officials with a stake in the battle against the proliferation of prescription-drug abuse.
Unlike 35 other states, Florida doesn't have an operational database that tracks prescriptions doctors write for certain drugs, and those who are prescribed the drugs. Florida lawmakers adopted plans for one in 2009, but a bid dispute kept it from running.
It didn't help that Gov. Rick Scott was opposed to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for privacy reasons, prompting the White House and officials from other states to implore that he change his stance.
Florida lawmakers responded to the crisis this year by approving legislation aimed at cracking down on the state's so-called pill mills that was signed by Scott earlier this month.
It was a step forward, considering Scott had axed the state Office of Drug Control when he took office in January. Like the Orange County group, state leaders seem to be acknowledging the prescription-drug battle must be fought on several fronts.
"I truly see that this is not just a law-enforcement issue. It is one that our entire community, our entire society needs to embrace and understand," said Ken Tucker, assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "In order to deal with it, you have to take a multipronged approach. We can't arrest our way out of it."
'On the right track'
When the Orange County work group met in April, it was the first time in Central Florida that law-enforcement, health-care, pharmacy and public-policy officials had gathered in one place to discuss their concerns.
Pharmacy representatives said they were frustrated by the lack of action taken against doctors who overprescribe, because they are the ones who come face to face with drugs addicts or traffickers looking to fill prescriptions after doctor shopping. Law-enforcement officials said they don't have the legislative tools needed to go after bad doctors or traffickers.
"I am impressed that we can bring together all of these different components of our community to solve a problem," Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. "I think we're absolutely on the right track."
Jacobs recently appointed her predecessor, Rich Crotty, to chair a new prescription-drug task force that will analyze Florida's new pill-mill law and also look at issues surrounding the county's moratorium on new pain-management clinics — a ban that will expire in December.
Jacobs said she wants to make sure that when the county's moratorium expires and the new state law takes effect, "that we're doing everything at a local level that we can to stop these pill mills — these clinics that clearly are not there to serve legitimate pain-management needs."
"We're not tolerating this in Orange County," Jacobs said. "It's not just a public-safety issue … this state, this community, cannot afford the continued reputation that we've developed in a very short period of time."
Database debuts in fall
Though it will be significantly behind schedule, Florida's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is slated to debut in October. Supporters say it is one of the best tools for combating the prescription-drug epidemic.
Law enforcers say it will discourage doctor shopping and help officials catch doctors who overprescribe. The lack of one, until now, has fostered Florida's reputation as a state where dangerous, addictive prescription drugs are easy to come by.
RX FOR DANGER: Part 3 of 3