An attempt to curb prescription drug abuse and stop Florida's burgeoning pain clinic industry by creating a statewide drug-monitoring database is on the verge of becoming reality after passing the Florida House on Thursday.
The measure by Representatives Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami; Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton; and Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala; will create a statewide database will track the prescriptions written and filled for addictive medications, including narcotic painkillers, such as oxycodone.
Doctors, pharmacists -- and, in some cases, law enforcement -- can then use that information to identify people who are "doctor shopping," a term that refers to the practice of going doctor to doctor looking for prescriptions.
It cleared the House 103-10, after nearly 90 minutes of debate. A similar proposal passed the Senate last week, and it now heads to the governor.
"Let's end the practice of doctor shopping," Llorente said. "Let's do what we can to put the pain mills out of business."
In Florida, prescription drug overdoses kill more than 2,000 people a year, more than triple the number of deaths attributed to illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Thirty-eight other states have prescription-drug tracking databases, but privacy worries associated with a state-run prescription drug database have stalled efforts to create a similar system in Florida, making it the largest state without one.
Some say lax regulations and the lack of a prescription monitoring system have created a cottage industry of pain management clinics, drawing people from around the country who are looking for easy access to addictive medications.
"We have a chance to stop the explosive growth of these clinics, to stop these clinics from festering, and to send the sleazy, bottom-feeding operators of these death centers back to Kentucky where they belong," said Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs.
But several lawmakers, including several from South Florida, continued to raise privacy red flags.
"We are spending money and we are creating a database to track our citizens and their activities," said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami. "And I just don't believe in that."
Throughout the legislative session, Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, pushed a competing proposal that would use biometic data -- like a fingerprint -- to track prescriptions rather than using someone's name.
He also has objected to a provision in the bill that allows doctors and pharmicists 15 days to input prescription information.
"I don't disagree with the problem," Domino said. "The question is -- and I've asked the question time after time -- does this work?"
He made another attempt to push an alternate system on Thursday, a move that was ultimately defeated.