Monday, April 27, 2009

Health Care: Florida Takes Steps to Combat Illegal Pain Clinic Prescriptions

Law enforcement has been unable to combat the illegal dispensing of pain medication at pain clinics throughout the South Florida area. In the past year the number of pain clinics in the area has risen from 60 to 150. The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration has said that in a six month span of 2008 50 South Florida physicians have dispensed almost nine million pills of the controlled painkiller, oxycodone. The problem is that Florida has lagged in its regulation of clinics that provide pain medication.

The leading health enforcement agency in Florida is the Agency for Health Care Administration. While AHCA has broad authority to insure compliance with health care standards, its jurisdiction exists only over clinics that accept insurance. To avoid regulation most pain clinics do not accept insurance, operating cash businesses instead.

Law enforcement officials believe that addicts and pill dealers from states that regulate and monitor the dispensing of pain medication come to South Florida to obtain the drugs and then take them out of state for sale or use. Thirty-eight states have programs to monitor the sales of these drugs. Florida may soon join them.

The Florida legislature is working on a proposal that will create a database to track narcotics prescriptions filled by the state's physicians and pharmacists. This will identify those professionals writing and filling excessive numbers of prescriptions for pain medication and will also identify individuals who are attempting to obtain pills from several doctors. The proposal will require pain clinics to register with the state and submit to annual Department of Health Inspections.

The proposed legislation is similar to that enacted my many of the states that regulate pain clinics. While it has some possible deficiencies, such as not requiring criminal background checks on pain clinic employees, the database will be a very important enforcement tool.

For an in depth discussion of the issue, please see The Miami Herald, "Law May Lack Teeth to Rein in Pill Mills," April, 27, 2009, p. A1.

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