Drug Database Changes on Life Support
A move to make it harder for investigators to get access to a statewide prescription-drug database is in trouble.
Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean, who's pushing the changes, on Tuesday pulled the measure (SB 7016) from his committee's agenda, citing concerns of Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also serves on the committee.
Under Bean's proposal, investigators would have to get subpoenas to access records stored in the controversial database, known as the prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP. Bean filed the measure after the release last year of the prescription drug histories of more than 3,300 people to defense attorneys after a federal drug sting in Volusia County.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, an impassioned supporter of the database, and other prosecutors along with law enforcement officials object to the changes. They believe requiring judges to sign off on the records requests would not only clog up the courts but slow down the process of cracking down on prescription drug-related crimes.
The law enforcement community complained that his bill would "take away our tool," Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said.
"Certainly no one wants to prevent them from going after bad guys. I'm just tired of getting spied on. Our government listens to our phone calls. Our government reads our e-mails. I just want government out of our medicine chest," Bean said.
Bean hasn't given up on the bill and called his proposed subpoena requirement "a good starting point" but it is unclear whether he will strip that from the measure before bringing it back to the committee. But he promised that the bill would be heard sometime in the next month. "I don't want to back off privacy. How we get there…I'm open," he said.
The database, which went live two years ago, contains more than 87 million prescriptions, and law enforcement investigators tapped into the records more than 33,000 times, an average of nearly 50 daily requests, in 2013, according to the PDMP annual report.
Florida law requires that pharmacists enter all prescriptions for controlled substances, including medications like oxycodone and Valium, into the database. Doctors are not required to consult it before writing prescriptions. Law enforcement officials are permitted to seek records from the database for active investigations.
The database was approved after Florida became known nationally for unscrupulous clinics, doctors and pharmacies that made the state a magnet for prescription-drug users and traffickers.