Without support from Gov. Scott, disputed prescription-drug database gets go-ahead

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — The Florida Department of Health on Friday announced it is going ahead with a disputed prescription drug tracking system to help close down "pill mills" that sell painkillers and other medications to drug dealers and addicts.

Gov. Rick Scott wanted the database scrapped, questioning its effectiveness and arguing it would infringe on patient privacy, but Surgeon General Frank Farmer Jr., a Scott appointee, cleared the way for implementation by rejecting a contract challenge that has held it up for the last four months. Farmer cited a state law passed two years ago to create the monitoring system.

Law enforcement officials say the lack of a database has made Florida the nation's epicenter of prescription drug abuse, attracting buyers from across the country in what's been dubbed the "Flamingo Express."

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, both strong supporters of the electronic monitoring system, hailed Farmer's order.

"The database will provide `shock and awe' in Florida's efforts to end the criminal abuse of legal prescription drugs," Haridpolos said in a statement.

The Merritt Island Republican, who's also running for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, said a bill (SB 818) pending in the Florida Senate would strengthen the monitoring system and increase privacy protections.

Legislation, though, has been introduced in the House to repeal the monitoring system. It has support there from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, as well as Scott.

Bondi said the tracking system "will enable law enforcement to act more quickly in identifying and arresting pill operators."

Scott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The law creating the monitoring system failed to provide any money for it but established a foundation to seek private contributions and federal grants in conjunction with the governor's Office of Drug Control.

One of Scott's first acts after taking office in January was to disband that office, but the state already has raised enough money to pay for the system for the first two years. That includes $1 million offered by Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the most widely abused painkillers.

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