Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called a press conference last week to ban a new party drug known as MDPV, which is being sold in head shops around the country as “bath salts.”
Most users snort the stuff, which doctors say can cause wild hallucinations and violent behavior. Peddled as fake cocaine, MDPV has been linked to several deaths and suicides.
Said Bondi, “I frankly had a nightmare last night that someone was going to overdose on this and we hadn’t done anything.”
Interestingly, she didn’t mention having any nightmares about Florida’s storefront pain clinics, which are still handing out Vicodins like Tic-Tacs, and overdosing customers at the rate of seven fatalities per day — more than heroin, crystal meth and cocaine combined.
Florida has become one of the nation’s favored destinations for prescription-drug dealers, who travel here to load up their car trunks and head north with the pills, which are sold on the black market for up to $30 each.
More oxycodone is dispensed here than anywhere else in the country. During one especially bountiful six-month stretch of 2008, Broward doctors prescribed 6.5 million doses, almost four pills for every resident of the county.
Efforts to shut down the unscrupulous clinics have been stymied by Bondi’s Republican colleague, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott. One of his first acts was to eliminate the state Office of Drug Control, which had been coordinating the war on pill mills.
Scott’s executive order freezing all new regulations was another blessing for sleazy clinic owners, who’d been facing a slate of tough licensing standards from state medical officials. Now some of those restrictions will be delayed until the financial impact is assessed, in accordance with Scott’s “accountability” process.
This is a fantastic development for those who prey on drug addicts, though it’s bad news for healthcare providers, law enforcement and taxpayers who are picking up the tab for most overdose admissions to emergency rooms.
Certainly that’s not what the Legislature had in mind last spring when it took aim at the hundreds of pill mills that had sprung up throughout the state, especially in South Florida. Most of the clinics are still open today, churning out oxycodone prescriptions like confetti.
Lawmakers had mandated that the state’s medical boards make strict new rules for the clinics, including penalties for violations. Legitimate pain-clinic operators and pharmacies generally supported the reforms.
Not so fast, said the rule-hating governor.
So the killer pill mills remain open, while Scott’s new “Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform” ponders the potential financial impact of urinalysis.
Last week, the Florida Board of Medicine unanimously passed four rules aimed at curbing prescribing abuses at in-and-out clinics. But first the state had to pay for a quickie economic study that calculated the pain-clinic rules would cost the private sector about $69 million the first year, most of it for urinalysis.
The tests are relatively inexpensive (about $17-per-pee), and would help clinics determine whether the customers were painkiller addicts or patients with true medical problems. The customers themselves would pay for the testing.
For the governor’s staff to be meddling in such a clear-cut issue is a waste of time and resources. Apparently, seven dead Floridians a day isn’t enough evidence to convince Scott that there’s a crisis.
Everyone else seems to get it, from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to local police agencies that have witnessed the pill clinics proliferate, and documented the convoys of dope mules arrive from other states.
The Legislature in 2008 passed a law authorizing a computer data base to track narcotics prescriptions, which would help identify pill-peddling physicians as well as drug dealers who shop from one doctor to another.
Yet the monitoring system still isn’t in place, and might not be until summer. Florida remains one of only 12 states without such a data network.
More legislation took effect in October, in advance of Scott’s election. Before then, basically anyone could own a pain clinic, felons included. Now each clinic must show that it’s owned by a state-licensed physician, or conform to licensing standards as hospitals do.
True, tough laws and rules won’t stop all crooked clinic owners and shady doctors, who can be as creative as they are greedy. But without something on paper to enforce, authorities can only peck at the problem.
Many officials in Tallahassee do seem to grasp the nightmarish scope of the prescription-painkiller epidemic. To Bondi’s credit, she appointed former state Sen. Dave Aronberg to pursue pill-peddling operations statewide.
But, like everyone else, Aronberg can’t do much until Scott’s little truth squad gets around to deciding (among other things) whether urine tests present an undue financial burden for Vicodin buyers.
The governor wasn’t kidding when he said Florida is open for business. Just ask the creeps at your neighborhood pill mill.