Gelber: Time to get tough on prescription drug 'dispensaries of death'

Oct 1, 2010

Jessica Vander Velde

St. Petersburg Times

TAMPA — A state law that gets tough on pain clinics takes affect Friday, but one of the bill's co-sponsors, Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber, stood in front of a Tampa courthouse and said it's not enough.

Gelber, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, announced a five-point plan to crack down on doctor-shopping and unscrupulous pain clinics, which he called "dispensaries of death."

"This is really the new drug war in this nation," he said at a noon news conference.

Gelber said he wants to:

•Encourage local moratoriums on new pain clinics.

• Push forward a database that would make "doctor shopping" difficult.

• Require pain clinics to be owned by physicians.

• Strengthen prosecutors' tools.

• Increase education.

From 2005 to 2009 in Florida, nearly 6,000 people have died from prescription drugs. In the Tampa Bay area, local authorities have raided pain clinics and made several arrests, but clinics are still seeing long lines of people — some who come from out of state because of the lax laws here, authorities say.

"We have become the Costco of prescription drugs," Gelber said of Florida.

Gelber said as Attorney General he would make the fight against the unnecessary prescribing of drugs a centerpiece of his tenure.

The new law that takes affect Friday prevents clinics from dispensing more than a three-day supply of pills to anyone paying by cash or by credit card. The clinics must also register with the state and open their doors to inspectors.

Already, the bill is facing opposition — most notably from the National Pain Institute, which last week filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee, seeking to have the new law declared unconstitutional.

Gelber said he's afraid the bill will quickly become mired in litigation.

"I understand that aspects of the bill may be burdening people, but we can't just regulate our way out of this problem," he said. "We're going to do it by some fairly draconian rules."

Court proceedings have also slowed the launch of a drug-monitoring database that would track the prescriptions written and filled for addictive medications, such as oxycodone.

The company that didn't get the state's contract has sued for it, which could delay use of the database for months, Gelber said.

Funding has also been a problem, he said. The database was privately funded because the Legislature gave it the go-ahead but didn't earmark any money for it. Gelber said that was a major mistake by state lawmakers.

"This needs to the focus of state government right now," he said. "This is a major problem."

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