ORLANDO – Taking on what’s become a top priority for local law enforcement agencies and county commissioners, Gov. Rick Scott testified before Congress today about Florida’s growing problem as a hotbed for prescription drug abuse.
“Florida, like much of the nation, has a long history of criminal drug enterprises,” Scott said. “The drugs have ruined lives and threatened the safety of our fellow citizens. Across the decades, the names of the drugs have changed, but the problem has remained.”
But most recently, the governor added, legally prescribed drugs have become as much of a problem as illegal ones.
“Today, one of the most common names when it comes to the diversion of legal pharmaceuticals for illegal use is Oxycodone,” he said.
The Republican governor testified today before the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, during a hearing on the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.
This has become a major concern for local counties. Orange County has already imposed a moratorium on new pain management clinics, and Osceola County commissioners are considering a similar ordinance.
So-called “pill mills” are where doctors write prescriptions for pain killing medications that in some cases can be highly addictive. The abuse of prescription drugs is considered one of the nation’s fastest growing drug problem. The Center for Drug Free Living Addictions Receiving Facility in Orlando has reported that addictions to heroin have, until recently, made up 47 percent of the patient base at this forty-bed inpatient detoxification stabilization facility, while pharmaceuticals – and that included all the pain pills – was at 50 percent. Last October, those numbers jumped to 83 percent for pain pills, 15 percent for heroin and 2 percent for Methadone.
It’s been estimated that pill mills can bring in $25,000 a day, and these clinics are particularly prevalent in south Florida. Broward and Palm Beach counties have 200 known pill mills. Some even advertise “No wait, walk in’s welcome for chronic pain” out front.
With Florida’s reputation for these pill mills on the rise, Gov. Scott noted during his testimony that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s data recently confirmed these sorry facts, including:
· 98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing Oxycodone nationally are in Florida, concentrated in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando.
· 126 million pills of Oxycodone are dispensed through Florida pharmacies.
“When confronted with these numbers, a serious problem is plain to see,” Scott testified. “However, the nature of our response to the problem is sometimes less clear.
Osceola County commissioners recently considered a moratorium on new pain management clinics – there are currently 14 operating in the county – after Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell testified that in 2010, his office made more than 300 arrests for illegal prescription drugs. More than 100 of those arrests involved trafficking illegal prescription drugs, primarily Oxycodone and OxyContin. The Medical Examiner’s Office also reported that there were 10 deaths last year in Osceola County involving the misuse of prescription drugs.
John Mascia, an occupational therapy assistant at Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center in Haines City, said some patients coping with pain injuries have heard so many negative reports about pain pills that some are afraid to even fill their prescriptions.
“We’ve had patients who have been concerned about that,” he said. “A lot of them will say, ‘Ok, the doctor has given me this prescription, but let me take Tylenol or Motrin instead.’ “
Mascia said the patients began worrying about how they would react to a medication that’s become known as a good high for some addicts.
“In theory they should know their own body,” he said. “But they’ve never been in pain before.”
During his testimony before Congress, Gov. Scott acknowledged that Florida had become a hot spot for prescription drug abuse.
“Every day, we see that pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers turn a blind eye when massive amounts of narcotics stream into the same regions of Florida week after week,” he said. “Meanwhile, unscrupulous doctors work with storefront pill mills masquerading as legitimate health clinics. Each of these levels provides an opportunity for law enforcement to intervene and stop the illegal flow of drugs into our communities.”
Scott said his office has responded by working with law enforcement professionals across the state to fight back and “initiate an immediate law enforcement response to criminal drug trafficking in Florida. This action, the creation of a Statewide Drug Strike Force, meant that from the highest offices of statewide law enforcement down to the street cops in our cities, we would open the channels of communication and ensure multiagency cooperation. The goal is clear — target the sources of these drugs before they hit the streets.
“Until recently, the burden of enforcement has primarily fallen on local jurisdictions,” he added. “However, our local sheriffs and police chiefs simply cannot continue to tackle this mounting issue alone. They need the assistance of a statewide coordinated effort that provides intelligence, analytical, and investigative support.”
Commissioner Gerald Bailey of Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement, the governor noted, now serves as the statewide coordinator to support the work of local law enforcement, and local strike teams are being co-led by Florida’s sheriffs and police chiefs.
“I believe we can fight this problem and, with the right strategy, I believe we can win,” Scott concluded. “In my opinion, that strategy is centered on a law enforcement solution that focuses resources at the top of the distribution chain rather than the bottom.”
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