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Fla. plan to end prescription tracking prompts fears of drug abuse

By Bill Estep
Friday, February 11, 2011; 7:04 PM

LEXINGTON, KY. - Florida's new governor said this week that he wants to eliminate a prescription-tracking system. The proposal has set off alarm bells and anger hundreds of miles away, in Kentucky, where authorities believed the system would help cut the flood of pills coming into their state.

"Everyone up here, law enforcement, feels like we've been kicked in the teeth," said Frank Rapier, director of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, based in London, Ky. "To take a step back like this is incredible."

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D), a physician, said he doesn't think Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) understands the deadly impact that pills flowing from unscrupulous clinics in the Sunshine State are having elsewhere.

"I'm infuriated" by Scott's move, Mongiardo said Thursday.

"What they're doing by this is basically setting up billboards across the country saying, 'Come to Florida and get your drugs,' " Mongiardo said. "Unfortunately, the end result is people dying."

It has become commonplace the past few years for carloads of people from Kentucky, particularly from the eastern end of the state, to leave the state in search of prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety pills - such as OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax - and to return to Kentucky to sell or abuse the drugs.

One reason addicts and drug traffickers do so is that Kentucky has a system to track prescriptions. Doctors can use it to make sure a person is not trying to get prescriptions from several sources, and police can use it to investigate diversion of pills to illegal sales.

Florida has been a key destination for people from Kentucky and other states seeking pills because it has hundreds of pain clinics - some of them cash-only operations where doctors allegedly do little real treatment - and because it had no system to track prescriptions.

Raids on clinics in Florida have turned up files on hundreds of people from Kentucky. Florida had essentially become the pill mill for Appalachia and the East Coast, police have said.

In 2009, Florida lawmakers approved the creation of a prescription-monitoring system that officials said could begin operating this year. However, Scott included language to eliminate the program in his proposed budget.

That is just a proposal, which the legislature could override.

Florida state Sen. Mike Fasano, a Republican who sponsored the bill creating the monitoring program, has vowed to fight the move to eliminate the computerized tracking system, said his chief legal assistant, Greg Giordano.

"He's extremely disappointed that the governor has made this proposal," Giordano said of Fasano.

Scott's office did not respond to a question about why he wanted to do away with the monitoring program.

Florida is facing a steep budget shortfall, but the monitoring system, set up mostly with federal money, would cost only $500,000 a year to run, said Bruce Grant, former head of Florida's Office of Drug Control.

Florida has not put any money into the monitoring system, and the goal was to fund it with federal grants and donations, supporters said.

- McClatchy Newspapers

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