According to a recent NPR report, seven people die every day in Florida from prescription drug overdoses. Many of the deaths are linked to so-called pill mills: medical facilities that illegally prescribe or dispense strong narcotics. In response to the crisis, law enforcement officials in Florida have launched an online database to track prescriptions for narcotic-grade medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Amy Pavuk, a crime reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, told NPR’s Neal Conan that it’s too soon to tell how the prescription-monitoring program is working. “It hasn't been in effect that long, but law enforcement who I've spoken to have started using it. They use it to track what doctors are prescribing and what citizens are receiving in prescription,” she said.
According to a Tampa Bay Online article, the new database is part of a larger crackdown by law enforcement on both drug dealers and “shady doctors" writing mass quantities of scripts. New legislation strengthens regulations governing the ownership and operation of pain clinics. For example, one of the new rules prevents doctors from dispensing pain pills at their offices; they must write prescriptions that are filled at pharmacies.
And even if it’s too soon to tell for sure, Florida’s efforts certainly seem to be paying off. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami, oxycodone purchases across the state dropped 97 percent from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, Florida doctors sold about 46 million oxycodone pills; last year, the number of tablets sold was 1.2 million, according to the DEA. The number of Florida doctors who buy oxycodone has also decreased. In 2010, 90 of the top 100 oxycodone-purchasing doctors lived in Florida. In 2011, the number dropped to 14, Tampa Bay Online reported.
The database, specifically, has helped doctors identify addicts or people who are “doctor shopping” – the practice of visiting different physicians in a short period of time to obtain multiple prescriptions for pain pills. Within two months of the database's October launch, doctors were able to check the prescription histories of 106,414 patients (it tracks about 21 million prescription records).
Florida struggled against “drug tourism” from states like Kentucky and Ohio, which had stricter laws at the time. Essentially, traffickers would fill their bottles in Florida and sell at marked-up prices on the streets in their own states. In the NPR story, Pavuk notes that DEA agents have coined the moniker “pillbilly” for out-of-state prescription buyers who sell at a markup of up to 40 times the original price.
According to the NPR report, 35 states already have similar prescription monitoring programs. The numbers sound promising, but some pundits warn of a false positive; the prescription drug trade isn’t disappearing, it’s just moving to more sophisticated, online venues. Are you optimistic about the new databases? Or do you think a crackdown on the ground only encourages dealers and addicts to find another way?