FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law Friday aimed at controlling the state’s “pill mills” and ending Florida’s reputation as the “oxy express” by penalizing doctors who overprescribe painkillers, tightening rules for operating pharmacies and authorizing a prescription-drug monitoring database.
Scott signed the legislation (HB7095) in Fort Lauderdale and was to have other signing ceremonies in Tampa and Orlando later in the day.
“It’s about time,” said Tina Reed of Fort Lauderdale, whose son would go “doctor shopping” to gain access to prescription pills from several doctors. She decided to have him arrested before he could overdose. Her son has been drug-free now for nearly a year.
“Lives are going to be saved because of this, and that’s the most important thing,” she said of the new law. “I have a lot of friends who have lost someone because of this nightmare.”
Florida is considered the epicenter of prescription drug abuse, with pain-management clinics supplying drug dealers and addicts with illicit prescription painkillers. The federal government says 85 percent of the powerful painkiller oxycodone is sold in Florida, much of it to people from out of state who then illegally resell the pills, primarily along the East Coast and Appalachia.
“I am proud to sign this bill which cracks down on the criminal abuse of prescription drugs,” Scott said. “This legislation will save lives in our state and it marks the beginning of the end of Florida’s infamous role as the nation’s Pill Mill Capital.”
The Republican governor originally opposed the prescription-drug monitoring database, calling it a waste of money and an invasion of privacy. But Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and several GOP legislators pushed for the database and Scott eventually agreed.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a story of someone who has lost a family member or friend to prescription drug abuse,” Bondi said in a statement. “This legislation will make significant strides in ridding Florida of unscrupulous doctors and pill mills, making our state a safer place to live and raise our families.
Soon after the bill signing Friday, state and local authorities executed two search warrants in Orlando as part of a pill mill investigation. One doctor allegedly prescribed more pills than the entire state of California, according to the Orlando Police Department. The State of California dispensed 303,000 oxycodone pills in one year, a spokeswoman said in a statement.
The Obama administration last month announced that the federal government will aim to cut the abuse of oxycodone and other opioids by 15 percent in five years through education, stepped-up law enforcement and pill-tracking databases.
When used properly, OxyContin — oxycodone’s trade name — and similar medications help people deal with chronic pain, slowly releasing key ingredients over many hours. Abusers crush the pills and sniff or inject them, resulting in a euphoric heroin-like high.
According to the state, more than 2,500 people — seven a day— die in Florida each year from painkiller abuse. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths from painkillers have risen from less than 4,000 in 2000 to more than 11,000 in 2007, the most recent statistics available.
Florida’s new law:
— Creates a prescription-drug monitoring database but bars pharmaceutical companies from funding it, to avoid a conflict of interest. Bondi said a group of local law enforcement agencies agreed to pay for the database out of their forfeiture funds. It should be operating by Aug. 28.
— Makes clinics keep track of patients who get drug prescriptions and if any of them develop drug-abuse problems.
— Penalizes doctors who overprescribe painkillers with minimum fines of $10,000 and 6-month suspensions.
— Makes it a first-degree misdemeanor if a pharmacist “knowingly fails” to tell local police if someone tried to fraudulently get drugs.
— Tells drug wholesalers to police themselves and alert state police if clinics appear to buy more than they need.
— Tightens rules for prescription writing, medical records and pain-treatment plans.
— Tightens rules on getting a permit to open and run a pharmacy and on pharmacy record-keeping.
— Requires certain pain-management clinics to register with the state and orders doctors to tell the state when they begin and stop working at such a clinic.
— Creates signage rules and other requirements. Clinics must have restrooms and waiting areas, be “structurally sound” and have at least one employee on duty trained in basic life support.
— Allows law enforcement to look at or copy clinic records without a search warrant.