Cracking down on pill mills was supposed to be one of the state government's biggest triumphs of the year. New legislation taking aim at regulating "pain management" clinics that wantonly prescribe addictive pain medications went into effect in October, but the government has blown several deadlines for putting in place regulations that would regulate pill mills. Oddly, Governor Rick Scott has announced that he's eliminating the Office of Drug Control once he takes office.
A spokesman for Scott told The Miami Herald and St. Petersburgh Times that the Gov-elect plans to eliminate the office, created in 1999 by Jeb Bush, as part of his promise to contain wasteful government spending. The four person team of full-time employees is headed by "drug czar" Bruce Grant.
Scott, a man with no experience in government, doesn't seem concerned that the move will have any effects other than saving money.
"I don't think we're going to have cocaine bales stacking up on the docks of Miami if we close this office," a spokesman told the Times/Herald. The office's duties will be taking over by the state Health and Law Enforcement departments.
Critics say the move will save only $500,000 and could cost human lives. More than six fatalities a day are linked to prescription pain medication. Lose regulations has created a cottage industry of illicit "pill mills" in Florida, with the problem concentrated in Broward County. The Office of Drug Control was credited with focusing on the problem and spurring the new laws in the first place.
As if to prove that his office is necessary, Grant went to The Herald a few days after Scott announced the cut to spill the beans on how badly the state has botched implementing the new pill mill laws.
When lawmakers approved [a newly mandates" statewide database of all prescription narcotics sold by doctors and pharmacists"] they did not set aside any money to pay for it. So health officials must rely on federal grants and private donations to finance the database, expected to cost $1.2 million in startup costs and $500,000 a year to manage.
Through a nonprofit, the state has collected about $500,000 in donations, while also qualifying for $800,000 in federal grants, Grant said.
Grant's office was responsible for securing much of those funds. Some worry with the office set to be shuddered, the pressure on pill mills may subside.
"This state must have an entity that does nothing but focus on solving this crisis. The Department of Health, although a very good department with well-intentioned, hard-working individuals, they have many other responsibilities," state Senator Mike Fasano, Republican, told the Times/Herald. "There is no group more dedicated to this one issue and saving lives than the Office of Drug Control."