Fighting Prescription Drug Epidemic Takes Multipronged Approach

Paul Melton is well versed in the many facets of prescription drug abuse. He’s involved and impassioned.

Melton is an investigator with Pinellas County’s Department of Justice and Consumer Services.

A retiree from the sheriff’s office after 12 years of service, Melton started his new job in November. His assignment is the problem of prescription drug abuse.

Melton says prescription drug abuse is much worse than the crack epidemic of the past.

“We all know someone – friend, parent, friend’s parent – everyone knows someone affected by prescription drugs,” he said.

Melton’s mission is enforcement of the county’s prescription management ordinance, which includes regulation of clinics that prescribe pain medications, as well as education and prevention measures.

He says he spends much of his time out in the community, either inspecting registered clinics to make sure they are following the county’s laws or speaking to groups and organizations on the topic of prescription drug abuse and addiction.

Melton’s position is new and funded by fees paid by clinics required to register per the countywide prescription management ordinance.

He was in his office Jan. 4 processing 2012 applications from pain management clinics and clinics described as “high prescribing” in a Nov. 8 revision of the county’s ordinance.

Melton sent a letter to physicians and pain management professionals Nov. 30, informing them of changes to the ordinance and the commissioners’ decision to extend the moratorium on new clinics until 60 days after the 2012 state legislative session.

Pinellas County enacted a moratorium on new pain management clinics and regulation requirements for existing clinics in May 2010 after the state failed to fund legislation that commissioners had counted on to help get a handle on a problem. To operate in the county, pain management clinics were required to register with the state, except when exempt, and apply for a permit from the county.

While it was a good start, the ordinance focused only on pain management clinics instead of all doctors who prescribe pain medications. Some doctors stayed under the radar until their patients showed up at the medical examiner’s office, Melton said. County leaders then realized they had missed a group contributing to the problem and amended the ordinance to include high prescribers, Melton said.

In 2011, registrations for 27 pain management clinics were approved. Melton anticipates more applications for permits in 2012 due to the new requirement for any health care facility with a high-prescribing physician to register. A high prescribing physician is one that writes 34 or more prescriptions in a single day for class II and class III narcotics.


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