Politics & Government

Florida Gov. Crist signs bill aimed at illegal pill trade

MIAMI — Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday signed legislation aimed at curbing the growing black market of illegal prescription drugs flowing from South Florida pain clinics across the eastern United States.

The new law, passed nearly unanimously in the Legislature, will require doctors and pharmacists to record patient prescriptions for most drugs in a state-controlled database.

This would allow health care professionals – and police and regulators, in some circumstances – to detect patients who go to multiple doctors seeking pills, a practice known as "doctor shopping."

Florida was among only 12 states without a prescription-monitoring program, making the state a magnet for addicts and dealers seeking powerful painkillers such as oxycodone, narcotics detectives say. Florida clinics – some advertising discounts and offering coupons for gasoline – have supplied pills for narcotics rings in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio and Massachusetts.

Feeding this market are scores of freestanding pain clinics – as many as 100 in Broward County alone – where doctors sell pills with little oversight. At least 17 new clinics have announced grand openings in South Florida since the Legislature passed the prescription bill on April 30.

In a racketeering indictment handed down last month, federal prosecutors alleged that members of the Bonanno organized crime family were also using pain clinics to distribute prescription drugs, court records show.

"Florida's lack of a prescription drug monitoring system has made our state a target for criminals looking to buy prescription drugs easily," Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, one of the bill's chief sponsors, said in a written statement. "I am pleased that we are now equipping physicians and law enforcement personnel with the tools they need."

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

Related stories from McClatchy DC