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A New Law Promises to Crack Down on 'Pill Mills'; TIGHTENING RULES Compared to Other States, Florida's Drug Regulation Is Looser

Article excerpt

Byline: KATE HOWARD

The last thing Cindy Harney's 20-year-old son said to her before he died of an overdose was that he was hooked on a prescription drug and he couldn't be helped.

It's for her son Garrett that she lobbied the Legislature to pass a law that would strengthen regulation of Florida's pain clinics. That bill is now awaiting the governor's signature.

Supporters say the law will go a long way toward reforming Florida's unscrupulous clinics, but they say there's still a lot of work to be done to regulate "pill mills" and keep strong narcotics out of the wrong hands.

Florida is known as the capital of prescription drug abuse, due in part to the state's comparatively loose laws regulating the dispensing of drugs like oxycodone and methadone. The lack of strong regulations has turned Florida into a destination for pill seekers from states such as Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, where regulations are tighter.

Though the proliferation of the clinics has been most prevalent in South Florida, there are 48 registered pain clinics in Jacksonville.

"Is this bill going to be the cure? No. We all get it," said Harney who lives in Sarasota and founded an activist group called Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse.

"They'll find another way," she said. "But it's going to help kind of reel it in a little, hopefully make it a little easier for our law enforcement."

The law will prevent felons from being owners of pain clinics that specialize in opiate-based prescriptions, and give law enforcement easier access to records from pain clinics. Anyone who receives their medications directly from their doctor in a pain clinic that doesn't accept insurance would also be limited to a 72-hour supply.

The bill follows a law passed last year that requires the state to launch a prescription drug-management program, intended to reduce doctor-shopping by people abusing drugs, by Dec. 1. That program has not yet been put into effect but would allow doctors to access information about patients' prescription history to ensure they aren't seeing other doctors at the same time.

Rep. Ron "Doc" Renuart, R-Jacksonville Beach, involved in developing the final bill, says that he hasn't heard much opposition to the badly needed rules - except when it compromises a revenue source, like dispensing pills on-site. …