TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A bill touted as getting tough on "pill mills" that supply drug dealers and addicts with illicit prescription painkillers passed the Florida House on Thursday and heads for the Senate, where the measure may not be tough enough.
The bill (HB 7095) received near unanimous approval in the House and would ban most doctors from dispensing certain controlled substances, limit pharmacies to dispensing no more than 5,000 doses of those drugs per month and stiffen penalties for pill mill operators.
It also no longer would weaken existing law by repealing the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, and deregulating pain clinics.
The sponsor of the Senate's pill mill bill (SB 818) nevertheless said he's still worried about several elements of the House measure including banning makers of commonly abused drugs from donating to the database, which gets no state funding.
"I have great concern, even though they were not successful in repealing the PDMP, they are doing their best to choke off any dollars that would get the PDMP up and running and being successful," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
The House bill's sponsor, Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, says it's a conflict to raise money from manufacturers whose drugs are causing the problem, but Fasano doesn't see it that way.
"It's interesting that they're concerned about a conflict of interest when the pharmaceutical companies were major contributors of the Republican Party of Florida in the most recent election and to many of the members of the Florida House and the Florida Senate," he said. "Apparently back then it wasn't a conflict."
The House provision would block a $1 million donation offered by Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, one of the most widely abused painkillers.
The state has raised more than $1 million from other donors and in federal grants, which is enough to get the program going and operate it for at least a year. After being delayed several months by a contract dispute, the program now is on track to begin in late August.
The Senate bill would lift the ban on state funding although the chamber hasn't appropriated any money for the program. Fasano said that would allow lawmakers in the future, though, to provide state dollars.
The Senate bill also would make the state's database conform to federal requirements, which could open the door for more federal grants, something not in the House version.
A House committee last week removed the database repeal, which had been proposed by Gov. Rick Scott and supported by House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. Scott had questioned the effectiveness of tracking system and argued it would have infringed on patient privacy.
Scott has since backed down in the face of an existing law requiring the database and opposition to the repeal from Senate leaders and Attorney General Pam Bondi as well as pressure from officials in other states.
Florida is considered the epicenter of prescription drug abuse, attracting dealers and addicts from other states. Law enforcement officials put much of the blame on Florida's lack of a monitoring system.
The House passed its bill 106-1 with Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne, the lone dissenter.
"While it doesn't go as far as some of us would like, or it stops short of where some of us would want it to be, it represents a compromise," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "It represents the fact that we must attack this problem at all levels in all ways."
After the House vote, Scott issued a statement praising the bill for being "tough on illegal distributors and fair to law-abiding industry professionals" and saying he would work with the Senate to ensure that it becomes law.
Fasano, though, said doing nothing may be better than passing the House bill.
Besides the funding issues, he's got a problem with the 5,000 dose monthly limit on pharmacies, which is not in the Senate bill. Fasano said that's not enough for facilities such as cancer centers and nursing homes that have legitimate reasons to dispense painkillers.
The House amended its bill Wednesday to include a provision calling for a study of the dosage limit to help lawmakers determine if it should be changed next year.
"It's like they picked it out of the air," Fasano said.
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