Police and Pain Practitioners Oppose Cancellation of Florida PDMP Database

Proposal to cancel Florida's prescription drug monitoring program has met with stiff resistance from law enforcement officials and physician groups.

Florida Governor Rick Scott’s plan to cancel the state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) because it is too pricy and too intrusive of individuals’ privacy has met with stiff resistance from a coalition of law enforcement officials, physician groups, and even members of the governor’s own party.

Although the statute authorizing the creation of the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) “specifically does not allow the use of state appropriations for establishing the PMDP," Florida Governor Rick Scott has called for the cancellation of the program as part of his efforts to reduce state spending, a move that has touched off a wave of protest from the pain medicine community in Florida.

The Florida Society of Pain Management Providers (FSPMP) responded to the governor’s call for repeal by calling the PDMP “the single most important weapon in the war on Rx drug abuse, not only in Florida but in the other 42 states where legislators have approved their operation." Claiming that Florida is “the epicenter of Rx drug abuse” in part because it has delayed implementing the PDMP, the FSPMP news release noted that “without the PDMP system there is no effective way to enforce the law, leaving honest physicians in the precarious position of unknowingly prescribing narcotic medications to a possible abuser or dealer.”

Citing data from the states that operate PDMPs, the FSPMP estimated that Florida's PDMP “will need approximately $1.2 million for its first two years of operation,” with an additional $500,000 per year thereafter to run the program. The FSPMP also noted that the program has secured enough money through federal grants and private donations to fund more than two years of operations.

In addition to the purported economic reasons for seeking to cancel the program, opponents have also decried the PDMP as yet another example of government overreach into the private lives of citizens. Florida House Health and Human Services Chairman Rob Schenck called the database "just a big-government, big-brother alternative." Schenck said in a media release that after eliminating the PDMP Florida “must examine every step in the supply chain and every strategy intended to stop prescription drug abuse” in order to find out “what really works." Saying that Florida needs “a front-end solution” that “stops the problem at its source and stops legalized drug dealers in Florida,” Schenck promised that his committee would soon introduce a bill that would present a solution to Florida’s pill mill problem.

Relaying the governor’s concerns over potential violations of patients’ privacy, a spokesperson for Scott’s office asked whether it was a legitimate function of government “to track the activities of law-abiding people in order to track a smaller subset of criminal behavior.” Scott himself has called the database “an invasion of privacy." The governor’s office disputes the claim that the PDMP would not require taxpayer funding, pointing out that at least one bill has been introduced in the legislature calling for more than $1 million in public funding. It attributes the lack of private funding for the database to fact that “nobody wants to pay for what already exists at all legitimate pharmacy chains already” and also to the fact that potential funders realize that relying on the physicians who are dispensing the medications to honestly self-report their actions “will do little to stop so-called pill mills.” The governor has said he will seek alternate approaches to dealing with Florida’s prescription drug abuse problem, including stricter fines, regulations, and enforcement.

However, many leaders in the Florida law enforcement community disagree with this approach. At the press conference announcing the results of police raids on more than a dozen pill mills across south Florida, Broward County Sherriff Al Lamberti and several other officials expressed their hope that the governor would reconsider his efforts to repeal Florida’s PDMP. Calling the database a critical weapon in the fight against the state’s flourishing pill mills and illegal prescription pain medication trade, Lamberti said that without the PDMP, “Florida is going to remain a problem state for pill mills. It is a huge step backward to rescind that [system]. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem."

Prescription Drug Abuse in Florida, by the Numbers

  • Prescription drugs kill six Floridians per day, five times as many as caused by all illegal drugs combined. The rate of deaths in Florida caused by prescription drugs is increasing five times as fast as the rate of deaths caused by all illegal drugs. Drug-related deaths in Florida increased from 6,767 in 2003 to 8,556 in 2008.
  • Physicians in Florida dispense five times more oxycodone than the national average of dispensing physicians and prescribe ten times more oxycodone pills than all other states combined.
  • More oxycodone is distributed in Florida than in any other state (40% more than in runner-up California).
  • In one six-month period in 2008, pill mills in Broward County dispensed more than 6.5 million oxycodone pills.
  • The DEA estimates that the number of pain clinics in South Florida more than doubled in 2009-2010 (from 60 to more than 150).

Sources: Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, Reuters, Miami Herald