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Should a warrant be required to access prescription drug database?

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A rule-making workshop about the state’s prescription drug database elicited comments from just one member of the public, a lawyer representing the ACLU who offered suggestions about how to tighten security for the program.

State health officials ordered the workshop, scheduled to last five hours, in response to the leaking of 3,300 patients’ prescription drug information in a Volusia County drug sting to lawyers representing defendants in the case.

The security breach prompted Michael Lambert, a Daytona Beach lawyer whose prescription drug history was among thousands of others’ handed out by a prosecutor and who is among the accused, to challenge the constitutionality of the database in court. Lambert says the database is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and violates protections against searches and seizures by the government.

Accessing the database should require a search warrant, ACLU lobbyist Pamela Burch Fort told the panel. But that’s not something the department can do with a rule. Instead, it would require the Legislature to change the laws regarding the program, called the Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation Program, or E-FORSCE.

But Burch Fort also suggested that the state notify individuals like Lambert whose names have been released to third parties but who are not under investigation.

The state should also limit law enforcement agents’ ability to go on “fishing expeditions” when they query the database. Under current guidelines for the program, investigators can use a “wildcard search using partial text,” allowing them to enter partial names or conduct a search for a name that sounds like the subject’s name.

And the department should redact the names of anyone whose drug history shows up in a search but who is not part of an active investigation, the ACLU, which opposes the database, suggested. The ACLU of Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the release of the names.

Department of Health officials did not take questions from reporters following the meeting, which lasted about half an hour, and instead directed reporters to submit questions in writing.

But Lorrie Abramowitz, an investigator with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, said a warrant should not be required to access the database because they aren’t needed to access pharmacists’ or doctors’ prescription drug records.

Abramowitz has investigated drug crimes for nearly two decades, and, like other law enforcement officials including Attorney General Pam Bondi, she said the database has dramatically reduced the number of “doctor shoppers.”

“It absolutely has been a huge asset,” Abramowitz said. “It’s working.”

Officials at the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the program, announced in June they were exploring stricter security measures to help ensure patients’ privacy. The department will have another workshop in August.

Health officials tightening security of drug database after 3,300 Rx histories revealed

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

State officials are tightening security of the statewide prescription drug database after the names, prescription drug history and other personal information of 3,300 individuals were released to lawyers of six defendants in a prescription drug fraud sting in May.

Wednesday’s announcement by Department of Health officials regarding stricter security measures came on the same day the state attorney who released the records revealed new details about how an investigation into a drug trafficking ring netted so many names of people apparently unrelated to the sting.

The changes to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, backed by prosecutors, are still in the works. The Health Department will hold a workshop on the proposed rules on July 8 to “identify any existing gaps” related to what happens to the records once they are mined from the database and “to establish accountability standards for users of PDMP information,” according to a press release issued by DOH today.

“The PDMP works daily to save the lives of those with prescription narcotic addiction and privacy is job one,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong. “That’s why today the Department is taking steps forward to put additional safeguards in place to prevent any unauthorized use of information that is intended to save lives. Moreover, I want to thank the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association for adopting procedures that provide further safeguards on how information from the program is used in court proceedings.”

The proposed changes won’t fix the problem, according to Michael Lambert, the Daytona Beach lawyer whose name was among the thousands on the list. It’s already a crime to knowingly and willfully wrongly distribute the information according to state law.

Seventh Judicial Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza gave the list of names to five of six attorneys for defendants accused of prescription drug fraud. Lambert is suing Larizza and asking a judge to block the law, which Lambert says is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and unconstitutionally violates protections against government searches and seizures.

Stricter rules about who can look at the data once it’s been retrieved won’t help, Lambert said. Larizza should have redacted the names of the individuals on the list who were not accused of crimes, he said.

“I wasn’t participating in fraud and neither were these other thousands of people. So what right do they they have to get my information out there?”

Under pressure, hipster retailer drops prescription line

Friday, June 14th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Urban Outfitters is apparently axing its tongue-in-cheek prescription drug line under pressure from health advocates and attorneys general, including Florida’s Pam Bondi.

Bondi’s staff said the Philadelphia-based chain did not contact her office but instead the AG learned about it online.

CNN reported that the company intends to drop the accessories that include a set of syringe-shaped shot glasses along with shot glasses, beer “koozies” and coasters that look like prescription pads.

The coasters bear the label “Al Koholic, M.D.” whose address is on “Brewskis Lane” in “Sloshville, NY.” The beer koozie, also “prescribed” by “Dr. Koholic, Al,” appears to be a prescription bottle for “BOOZEMIN.” And the “prescription shot” glasses are printed with the “Rx #: VRY-NBR8TD” with a quantity “As many as you can stomach” and refills: “Sure!”

CNN is reporting that Urban Outfitters is bowing to pressure from a variety of groups and killing the line.

“In the 20,000 products that comprise our assortment, there are styles that represent humor, satire, and hyperbole,” Urban Outfitters told CNN in a statement. “In this extensive range of product we recognize that from time to time there may be individual items that are misinterpreted by people who are not our customer. As a result of this misinterpretation we are electing to discontinue these few styles from our current product offering.”

Bondi, who’s been on a crusade against prescription drug abuse since her 2010 election, hailed the company’s decision.

“I commend Urban Outfitters for making the right decision by ending its prescription line of products. Prescription drug abuse has destroyed so many lives in our country, and we appreciate the sensitivity that Urban Outfitters has demonstrated by voluntarily discontinuing this line,” she said.

Bondi, other AGs ask Urban Outfitters to quit selling druggy accessories

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Pam Bondi and 22 other attorneys general are demanding that Urban Outfitters quit selling accessories they say is glorifying drug use and “undermining” efforts to combat prescription drug abuse.

The trendy company is targeting the hipster crowd with a line of products that riff on prescription drugs, including a set of syringe-shaped shot glasses along with shot glasses, beer “koozies” and coasters that look like prescription pads.

The Rx-line appears to be as focused on booze as drugs. The prescription-pad coasters bear the label “Al Koholic, M.D.” whose address is on “Brewskis Lane” in “Sloshville, NY.” The beer koozie, also “prescribed” by “Dr. Koholic, Al,” appears to be a prescription bottle for “BOOZEMIN.” And the “prescription shot” glasses are printed with the “Rx #: VRY-NBR8TD” with a quantity “As many as you can stomach” and refills: “Sure!”

But for Bondi, whose made fighting prescription drug abuse her top issue since taking office in 2011, and the other top lawyers, the kitschy barware isn’t a joke.

“Profiting from a ‘prescription line’ that is contrary to Florida’s efforts to combat prescription drug overdoses and drinking is unacceptable. We are calling on Urban Outfitters to forgo a few sales and help us save a lot of lives,” Bondi said in a statement.

The products “demean the thousands of deaths that occur each month in the United States from accidental overdoses,” Bondi and the AGs from 22 states and Guam wrote to Urban Outfitters CEO and Chairman Richard A. Hayne in a letter dated today. “These products are not in any way fun or humorous but make light of this rampant problem. We invite you to pull these products from your shelves and join with us to fight prescription drug abuse.”

Read the attorneys general message here or after the jump.

(more…)

Gov. Scott, AG Bondi say pill mill crackdown working

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A year after creating a prescription drug “strike force,” Florida is moving from the “Oxy express” to a role model for the nation in cracking down on pill mills and illicit pain pill distribution, according to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

The state’s Drug Enforcement Strike Force Teams, initiated by Scott with $800,000 last March, have seized almost 500,000 pills, 59 vehicles, 391 weapons and $4.7 million, according to Scott’s office. And they’ve made more than 2,150 arrests, including 34 doctors.

The dent in the illicit prescription drug trade comes from a combination of Scott’s “strike force” and tough laws – including restrictions limiting rogue doctors’ dispensing of drugs and the amount of drugs per patient they can prescribe – pushed by Bondi. Scott, Bondi, Bailey and a host of law enforcement and health officials boasted of the success at a press conference this afternoon.

“We have a long way to go,” Bondi, who testified before Congress on the issue last week, said, adding that the efforts have made a “tremendous difference in the war on prescription drugs.”

Last year, 90 of the country’s top 100 Oxycodone-purchasing doctors and 53 of the top 100 purchasing pharmacies were located in Florida. The number of doctors dropped 85 percent to 13 and the number of pharmacies went down to 19. And the number of pain clinics in the state has gone down from 800 to 508, according to Scott’s office.

And an interim report shows a nearly 8 percent drop in the number of people who prescription drug-related deaths in Florida from January through the end of June last year compared to the same six-month period the previous year.

From January 1 through July 1 last year, 1,173 people died with at least on prescription drug in their blood. The previous year, the 1,268 people died, a 7.9 percent decrease. Scott’s “strike force” was only in effect for half of that period and many of the restrictions on prescribing had not yet gone into effect. And the state’s prescription drug database was not yet up and running – that didn’t go online until October.

“This is a good news day,” Scott said, saying the drug force has had a “dramatic impact” over the past year. “People know now we are clearly the model.”

The crackdown on drug pushers is turning around the state’s reputation as the drug capital of the country, Bailey said.

“In one year, we’ve gone from being known as the Oxy-express to being a role model for other states dealing with this problem,” he said. “While we have made tremendous strides, we’re just getting started. Prescription drug trafficking remains a significant concern for Florida law enforcement.”

Rick Scott signs pill mill bill into law

Friday, June 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law pill mill bill banning doctors from dispensing most narcotics, tracking wholesale distribution of most highly addictive pain medications and keeping intact the state’s prescription drug database.

Scott says the new law will be a model for the nation.

“I am proud to sign this bill which cracks down on the criminal abuse of prescription drugs,” Scott, on a three-city ceremonial bill signing tour today, said in a statement. “This legislation will save lives in our state and it marks the beginning of the end of Florida’s infamous role as the nation’s Pill Mill Capital.”

Lawmakers approved HB 7095 after a contentious struggle over the future of the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a yet-to-be-implemented database aimed at cracking down on “doctor-shopping” and illicit prescription drug sales.

Attorney General Pam Bondi was instrumental in bringing House and Senate GOP leaders together on the final deal, passed in the final days of the legislative session that ended last month.

Bondi brings pill mill bill in for a landing

Friday, May 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

As Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi looked on from the dais, the House unanimously approved a pill mill compromise, sending it to Scott for final approval.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, praised the final product, the culmination of late-night negotiations that went down to the wire and at times appeared to be doomed.

“Today we saw the best of the best of the best of Tallahassee,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, said.

Bondi said she spoke with Senate President Mike Haridopolos after midnight and was working the phones until 2:30 a.m. Friday morning to try to bring the deal in for a landing.

Bondi said Friday’s vote would send an immediate message to unscrupulous pill mill operators and doctors.

“I hope they start packing right now,” she said.

Twisting a purple rubber bracelet, Bondi said she could now stop wearing the memento she placed on her wrist on March 8. The bracelet was a gift from the mother of Brandi Meshad, an 18-year-old Sarasota woman who overdosed from prescription drugs. Meshad was the granddaughter of attorney and prominent developer John Meshad. Her body was discovered at his house.

Bondi said she promised Lisa Meshad she would wear the bracelet until the measure was signed into law.

“Real soon,” Bondi said.

Pill mill rules stalled in House

Friday, May 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers are on the brink of finishing up work without ratifying rules implementing strict regulation of pill mills passed last year.

The Florida Senate unanimously signed off on two bills approving the new rules for doctors (SB 1990) and pain management clinics (SB 2168) a week ago but the House has yet to take them up with less than 18 hours left in the session.

The rules include penalties for doctors at the clinics who do not comply with a 72-hour prescription limit.

Efforts by Attorney General Pam Bondi and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to strengthen the regulations also are flailing, but even if passed would be difficult to implement without the current rules in effect.

“A lot of what has to be put in place has to be done by rule. It’s in the House’s hands. I don’t know what their intentions are,” Fasano said late Thursday night.

Palm Beach County’s Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, and former state Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat now working as Bondi’s drug czar, were instrumental in getting the pill mill regulations passed last year.

Lawmakers last year overrode Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto of a measure requiring the legislature’s approval of rules that cost more than $200,000 a year, meaning they must now sign off on rules regulating pill mills.

If they fail to act before Friday, it could be until the legislature reconvenes in January before they could be approved.

Scott, Bondi tout Florida progress on pill mills on FoxNews

Saturday, April 30th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, in Washington for the White House Correspondents Dinner, and Attorney General Pam Bondi appeared on FoxNews shortly after noon today to tell the nation what Florida’s doing to crack down on pill mills.

Florida’s proliferation of pill mills has become national news as attorneys general and governors around the nation blame the Sunshine State for rising prescription drug addiction problems.

Scott blamed his fellow Republican predecessors for the drug woes.

“We haven’t had enough focus,” he said.

Scott also touted the House’s pill mill plan, much broader than the Senate proposal, that would limit distribution of highly addictive narcotics and bar doctors from dispensing most powerful pain medications.

“We’re going to start from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the doctor, to the user. We’re going to stop this,” Scott said. “We’ve got a comprehensive plan to deal with all these things. We’re going to track all of it and we’re going to stop it.”

Bondi, who before her election as AG was a frequent contributor on Fox, bragged about the state’s prescription drug database while emphasizing its privacy component, a concern of Scott who early on wanted to scrap the program. Bondi pushed both Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon to allow the Prescription Monitoring Program to get up and running to “prevent people from going to doctor shopping,” as she told Fox today.

(more…)

Scott testified in DC on pill mills – watch live

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott testifies in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about prescription drug abuse.

Gov. Rick Scott will appear before a Congressional committee on Thursday to testify about prescription drug abuse.

Watch the hearing live now.

Scott will join Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, at the hearing entitled “Warning: The Growing Danger of Prescription Drug Diversion” at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade chaired by Rep. Mary Bono Mack.

Scott, who previously asked lawmakers for a repeal of the statewide prescription drug database law enforcement officials say is crucial in cracking down on prescription drug abuse, yesterday signed off on the latest state House pill mill bill that would keep the database, restrict doctors’ ability to dole out the drugs and establish new standards for pharmacies. The compromise raises hopes that the House and Senate will strike a deal on pill mill legislation before the session ends on May 6.

House, Senate coming together on pill mills

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A rewrite of the House’s plan to shut down pill mills brings the chamber closer to the Senate, bringing a standoff between GOP legislative leaders closer to resolution.

The House’s latest plan, which will be voted on by the budget committee this morning, keeps the current pill mill regulations, maintains the prescription drug database House Speaker Dean Cannon and Gov. Rick Scott previously wanted to scrap, and limits the amount of narcotic prescription doses pharmacies can dispense. Senate President Mike Haridopolos has refused to back down from his support for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, now underway after two years in limbo.

The strike-all amendment on the bill (HB 7095), which will be introduced this morning, also prohibits doctors from dispensing all Schedule II and III medications. Those include highly addictive oxycodone and hydrocodone.

And the proposal also requires all doctors and health care practitioners except those treating chronic, non-cancer patients to register with the state before they can prescribe controlled substances. The Senate’s plan does not include the limitations on doctors.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who supports the House revision, is expected to testify before the committee at 10:30.

Prescription drug database back on track

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The state’s long-awaited prescription drug database is back on track after state health officials signed a final order today in a bid dispute keeping the program in limbo for months.

The Department of Health signed the order moving forward with the contract with Health Information Design Inc., the Alabama-based company that twice won administrative challenges, although Gov. Rick Scott – who scrapped the database in his budget proposal – remains dubious about it.

“The concerns he’s voiced still remain. He’s concerned about patient privacy and wants to make sure that funding this thing never ends up on the backs of taxpayers. He still doesn’t think it’s the silver bullet that so many proponents claim,” Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said.

Those proponents include law enforcement officials from the state’s top cop, Attorney General Pam Bondi, to Palm Beach County state attorney Michael McAuliffe, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

“Stopping pill mills has been my top priority since I took office, and the prescription drug monitoring program that the Department of Health will now be implementing is an important tool in combating this crisis,” Bondi said in a statement. “As part of a criminal investigation, the program will enable law enforcement to act more quickly in identifying and arresting pill mill operators.”

Haridopolos has been in a stand-off over the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program with House Speaker Dean Cannon, who wants to repeal the system lawmakers created two years ago but has yet to be implemented. Haridopolos said he not only wants it up and running, he’s willing to have the state pay for it although state law prohibits taxpayer money from being used to create or operate the database.

“The database will provide ‘shock and awe’ in Florida’s efforts to end the criminal abuse of legal prescription drugs,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a press release. “In addition to the Senate’s commitment to the database, pending legislation will strengthen the prescription drug monitoring program and provide even stronger privacy protections for individual Floridians.”

House big-box pill mill bill a no-go in the Senate

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The House’s latest proposal that would give retailers like Walgreens and CVS exclusive rights to dispense highly addictive pain medications is a no-go in the Senate, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Wednesday afternoon.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure (HB 7095) this morning by a 12-6 vote, deepening the divide between the two chambers’ leaders over how best to crack down on pill mills.

Haridopolos insists on getting the state’s prescription drug database up and running despite his House counterpart Speaker Dean Cannon’s push to have it repealed.

The House’s latest plan to limit distribution of the narcotics by prohibiting doctors from being able to dispense them likely won’t go anywhere in the Senate, said Haridopolos, whose wife is a doctor.

“I don’t have a lot of hope for that one. We’re not even going in that direction,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said this afternoon at his weekly briefing with reporters.

House pill mill bill gives big pharmacies a boost

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The House gave retail pharmacies a boost this morning in its approach to reining in pill mills by going after rogue distributors.

Rep. Robert Schenck, sponsor of the bill (HB 7095), offered an amendment that would limit dispensation of narcotics to pharmacies that are publicly traded, have more than $100 million of taxable assets in Florida or have been in operation continuously for at least a decade.

The measure would also require the use of tamper-proof prescription pads or electronic prescribing for all controlled substances.

Schenck’s amendment, approved by the House Judiciary Committee this morning, also goes a bit easier on dispensing docs than his previous proposal which would have banned them from dispensing virtually any medications. Under Schenck’s new plan, only the pharmacies could dole out Schedule II and III drugs. Schedule II drugs iclude highly addictive narcotics like oxycodone and hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine. Schedule 3 drugs include sedatives and steroid compounds. (more…)

House committee gives initial OK to pill mill bill

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The House Health and Human Services Committee gave a preliminary nod to a measure backed by House Speaker Dean Cannon that would limit physicians’ ability to dispense drugs and scrap current laws regulating pain management clinics.

The measure (PCB HHSC 11-03) would also allow felons to own and operate “pill mills,” a prohibition lawmakers passed two years ago after it was reported that some of the clinics were owned by convicted drug dealers.

The committee is getting ready to pass a second measure (PCB HHSC 11-04) that would repeal the state’s yet-to-be implemented prescription drug database.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has insisted he wants to get the database up and running and is willing to spend the $500,000 a year to operate it although lawmakers barred any state money to fund the program.

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