You've got to admire the spunk and sanity of Bruce D. Grant, director of the Florida Office of Drug Control, appointed by Charlie Crist. He didn't much like the insinuation, in our story published here yesterday, that the Florida government has been lazy about funding legislation that will help curb the practices of the narco-peddling pill-mills that have sprung up like ugly mushrooms across Fort Lauderdale in the last decade, and which are responsible for feeding the drug habits of addicts in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and elsewhere. What did he do? Did he stalk off, offended, and refuse to ever again speak to the lamestream media? No! He called us about it, and we had a nice chat.
First of all, he wants us to know that there is more to Florida's prescription problem than the pill mills. Most abused prescription drugs come friends and family. The day-trippers who come to Florida from parts north to return home with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pain killers, mostly Oxycontin, represent only the most dramatic manifestation of a problem that kills seven Floridians daily. (And countless more nationally.) "That's only the most egregious, blatant, and ugly example of all the drug diversion going on in Florida," says Grant. He asks: "Are you familiar with The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell?" We are. "Well then -- you know what the tipping point was for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program? It was Oakland Park. It was the national exposure that embarrassed Florida. You got this national news, people coming from all up the Eastern Seaboard and Appalachia, coming down here for the prescriptions. And we had to get off our seats and pass a law."
And of that embarrassment was born a solution. A partial one, to be sure, and not a solution free of the lugubriousness that plagues any bureaucratic action. But a solution all the same.
It's called Florida Statute 893.055 (or "SB 462"), a piece of legislation drafted by Floridian Senator Mike Fasano, Republican of District 11. The legislation mandates the creation of a database, overseen by the Department of Health, that will allow pharmacies and doctors to check on the prescription-filling activities of individual patients -- to see if a patient is doctor-shopping, for example, by visiting three doctors, obtaining three prescriptions, and filling them at three different pharmacies. Moreover, it will provide an easy way for pharmacists to note if a single doctor is prescribing "medically improbable" quantities of narcotic painkillers. The database, when completed, will make life much more difficult for the white-coated pushers of Oakland Park's pill alleys, and put a "significant dent in prescription drug diversion and abuse," according to Grant.
Problem is, as reported in our story, the legislation cannot be implemented with state funds.
"But it is funded," says Grant. "When the law was passed in 2009, it said in there that it couldn't be funded by the state. It left us with the challenge of raising funds in two different ways." One of these was through a specially-created nonprofit that could raise funds for the creation of the database; this has yielded $500,000. The other fundraising mechanism was federal grants, which have yielded $800,000. As it stands, the program is sufficiently well-funded to bring the database online and keep it running through the end of June, 2011. "And another $250,000 will keep it up through June, 2012," says Grant.
According to the letter of the law, the database should be up and humming by the first of December. It won't be, because Florida's government is a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies are slow, and that's just how it is.
The particular problem in this instance is the dratted contractors. Shortly after Statute 893.055 was passed in early 2009, the Department of Health opened bidding on the contract to create the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. When bidding closed this summer, the losing bidder contested the winner, and the DoH opened bidding again. The same loser, Optimum Technology, lodged another complaint -- this one about the terms of the bidding themselves. Which means construction of the database has yet to get underway. Though Grant cannot know for certain when it will be completed, he guesses it will be sometime in March.
Nevertheless, he's proud of the state's progress, and, we suspect, more pissed off about the delay than he's willing to tell a reporter. As he reminds us, the prescription drug crisis in Florida is "comparable to the crack epidemic." Until the database is complete and operational, that's another seven deaths per day, 49 per week, 200 per month...