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Rick Scott wants to repeal law authorizing prescription drug monitoring program

Buried in Gov. Rick Scott's budget is repeal of a prescription drug monitoring database, which proponents say would go a long way toward curbing the states prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, blasted Scott today for the move.

"I'm extremely, extremely disappointed with the governor and his administration for sneaking this into a conforming bill. It's something that he should have talked about, should have explained not just thrown in," Fasano said. "As someone in the health care industry for all these years, he should know how important this is in saving lives."

Fasano sponsored the bill that created the database. Prescription drugs are linked to seven deaths every day in Florida. Last week, Attorney General Pam Bondi unveiled her strategy to combat the problem. Her approach included legislative measures, and Fasano filed a bill that incorporated many of her recommendations.

Scott dealt the monitoring program an initial blow last month, when he eliminated the Governor’s Office of Drug Control (created by Gov. Jeb Bush), which had worked with the state Department of Health to get the database up and running.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill to create the database in the summer of 2009. The bill passed after several failed attempts, mainly  because it didn’t put the state on the hook to pay for it. Instead, it  gave officials with the Office of Drug Control and the Department of Health 18 months to raise the money and set up the system. Through a foundation and grants, enough money was raised to start the database and keep it running for a year. The program was supposed to launch by Dec. 1, 2010.

But the program has been beset by numerous delays, including two bid protests filed by an Ohio company that was not selected to set up the system. A hearing on the latest protest was held Monday in Tallahassee, and a decision is expected in a couple weeks.

The monitoring system would require pharmacists and doctors to report information on anyone who has a prescription filled for drugs classified as Schedule II through IV, which includes substances like oxycodone, amphetamines, Vicodin and Xanax, into an electronic database. Pharmacists and doctors would be able to check the database to see if the patient asking for pain pills recently got a month's worth down the street.

Florida is one of just a handful of states without a prescription drug monitoring system. Florida’s law has also been criticized for a number of loopholes. One is a 15-day window that doctors would be given to enter the information into the system, which law enforcement officers say is plenty of time for doctor shoppers to obtain large quantities of drugs before their actions can be detected. The second loophole is that doctors aren't required to check the database before prescribing or dispensing drugs.

Richard Martin, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer