Sheriff Terry Keelin doesn’t much care for way Florida is protecting that one booming sector of an otherwise morbid state economy.
Maybe it’s the distance. His county’s a thousand miles north of South Florida’s flourishing cluster of pill mills.
Maybe it’s the fatalities.
“We’re getting wiped out up here with all these drug overdose deaths,” said the Boyd County sheriff, frustration seeping into his eastern Kentucky drawl. “We’re inundated with pills from Florida. We’re drowning in Florida pills,” he said. “Florida just doesn’t seem willing to do anything about it.”
Gov. Rick Scott didn’t improve Florida’s reputation among Kentucky law officers this week when his proposed budget included plans to kill the state’s prescription drug monitoring program before it started. The computerized record system was supposed to curtail high-volume, barely regulated sales of oxycodone and other prescription narcotics by Florida’s faux medical clinics. The governor also intends to eliminate the Florida Office of Drug Control, the agency that scraped together the start-up money from grants and donations for the program.
The chairman of the House Health and Human Services, Rep. Rob Schenck of Spring Hill, sided with the governor. Schenck called the monitoring system “big brother,” leaving Floridians to wonder if police investigations into the trafficking of cocaine and heroin (which kill considerably fewer Floridians each year than oxycodone) are equally Orwellian pursuits.
Gov. Scott told Tea Party supporters this week that he is determined to whack away at regulations and agencies that get in the way of Florida business. Sheriff Keelin, fighting a made-in-Florida oxycodone epidemic in Boyd County, understands those economic implications.
“What it’s starting to look like to us up here is a money issue. That it’s all about the dollar,” Keelin said Wednesday. “Florida is making so much money from people coming down out of Appalachia to buy pills, staying in the hotels, renting cars, buying gas and food that it’s not in their economic interest to do the right thing. They’re more concerned about the travel dollar than the lives of these people."
The Florida Legislature approved a monitoring system in 2009 after The Miami Herald and other state newspapers documented the sham medical procedures behind the sudden proliferation of highly profitable, cash-only storefront oxycodone clinics – at last count 130 in Broward County alone. Bedraggled people with suspect MRIs and feigned injuries were driving 14 hours down out of Appalachia to stock up on Florida oxy.
Kentucky and 42 other states maintain narcotic monitoring systems that discourage such willy-nilly pill sales -- leaving sunny, convenient, no-questions-asked Florida as the perfect destination for oxy tourism. Flights to South Florida out of Tri-State Airport, just across the West Virginia state line from Boyd County, have been dubbed the Oxy Express.
People are dying in Kentucky, Sheriff Keelin said, “But I guess their money’s getting pumped into the Florida economy.”