New Fla. prescription tracking law has glitches

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s new prescription tracking law doesn’t say what should happen if a pain clinic fails an inspection and gives the state’s “drug czar” an added job raising funds to help pay for the program, state officials told lawmakers Tuesday.

The law is designed to close down “pill mills” that sell to drug dealers and substance abusers. Many of the users are from other states that already have tracking systems, helping make Florida the nation’s leading supplier of illicit prescription drugs.

Rep. Charles Van Zant, vice chairman of the House Health Care Regulation Policy Committee, said a progress report presented to the panel shows the new legislation needs strengthening.

Lucy Gee, the Department of Health’s director of medical quality assurance, said the law lacks specific authority for the department to revoke permits or take other action against pain clinics that fail inspections.

“There is some clarification that needs to be made,” Gee said. “Normally it would say if you fail an inspection or if you do this or depending on the egregiousness of the violation, the department shall do this. The law does not state that.”

It charges pain clinics a $1,500 annual fee to pay for inspections but the monitoring system must be funded by federal grants and private donations. The law creates a direct support organization under Gov. Charlie Crist’s Office of Drug Control to raise those dollars.

The office’s director, Bruce Grant, told the committee the goal is to raise $1 million this year, including one-time expenses to set up the system, and $500,000 in each subsequent year.

The federal government already has approved a $400,000 grant to help with startup expenses. The state has applied for another $400,000 federal grant and obtained $150,000 from other sources, Grant said.

“Every time I’m in a public setting I tell people about the problem of prescription drugs,” Grant said. “I tell them about the law and ask if there’s anyone who has any contacts please get them to me. … To be quite honest, fundraising is not quite in our repertoire.”

Grant said prescription drug retailers and manufacturers have been approached for contributions but without positive results so far. Another idea is to seek money from drug abuse prevention organizations, but they’re strapped for cash. He said contributions from individuals, even as small as $20 or $50, also may be sought.

Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said the Legislature didn’t provide taxpayer funding because of Florida’s dire financial condition.

“The state doesn’t have the money to do something that we didn’t anticipate was going to be placed upon us, such as the largest prescription drug criminal activity in the United States and possibly the world,” Van Zant said.

About 800 pain clinics have applied for permits required by the new law. That’s 200 more than had been expected, said Larry McPherson, executive director of the Florida Board of Medicine.

McPherson said the Health Department has approved 275 permits so far and has returned about 150 applications with incomplete or unclear information.

Van Zant questioned a provision of the law that exempts pain clinics from annual inspections if they are accredited by national organizations approved by the Florida boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine.

“That will become a place where these criminally active pain centers, which we’re trying to get rid of, can direct themselves to fall through that gap,” Van Zant said.

Rep. Ronald Renuart, a Ponte Vedra Beach Republican and osteopathic physician, agreed. He said that’s why its important for the two boards to make sure accrediting organizations meet state standards.