They attended countless meetings, rewrote legislation, jawed with opponents and heard tearful stories from families torn apart by oxycodone and similar drugs.
Their efforts, along with that of other lawmakers and officials, finally paid off. The database went live Oct. 17. As of Dec. 16, more than 24.7 million dispensing records were uploaded.
The optimum? Simply put, saving lives, Fasano said.
“Not only to save lives of people who are using and future users, but also to save baby’s lives. We have an epidemic in this state of infants being born, not addicted to cocaine, but addicted to oxy – and they are called ‘oxy babies,’ ” said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
Although the number of lives that will be saved will never be known, officials know that many lives will not be lost as long as the database is consulted by every doctor every time he or she considers writing a controlled substance prescription, Fasano said.
The database is intended to curb the illegal practice of “doctor shopping,” preventing people from seeing multiple doctors in a short amount of time to get medications. Many people also illegally sell their medications.
Asked why he and his chief legislative assistant, Gregory Giordano, became involved in establishing a database, Fasano credited former Gov. Jeb Bush for recognizing there was a problem that was becoming a crisis.
“Florida is overprescribed,” he said, recalling Bush’s warning.
Fasano, who began working on the drug monitoring program in his final year in the Florida House of Representatives, had to fend off attacks on the proposed database.
“Philosophically, there was a lot of concern. Some members of the House saw this as a privacy issue – a database of medical information that can be abused or hacked into or something,” Fasano said.
But those concerns were addressed through public records exemptions and other means as Fasano worked with others to get the database established.
“Law enforcement can’t go on a fishing expedition and look for people. They have to have an active investigation. There are a lot of protections built-in to address concerns, which were valid in many ways, for those who did have fears that this could be used in some Big Brother way,” Giordano said.
‘The pill mill state of the nation’
The stories Fasano and Giordano heard were “sad, devastating,” Fasano said, as they continued to push for the database.
“It’s a huge motivation,” Fasano said.
He recalled a meeting at which a parent held up a bag of different colored pills.
“And he or she said this is what my son is being prescribed by one doctor,” Fasano said. “They would bring the pictures of their loved ones who were dead because of an overdose.”
In February, Fasano lashed out at Gov. Rick Scott for the governor’s proposal to eliminate the prescription drug monitoring program, which was signed into law by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009. He said at the time it was “beyond my comprehension” why the governor would try to repeal the law authorizing the drug-monitoring program and eliminate the Office of Drug Control.
“We have a governor today who adamantly opposed it (prescription drug monitoring program.)
“He certainly wasn’t informed,” Fasano said.
But that all changed after the governor went to Washington, D.C., in April and testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee about the dangers of the illegal distribution of prescription drugs, Fasano said.
“The best thing that happened to Florida was when Gov. Scott went to Washington and met up with his other colleagues,” talked to the governor of Kentucky and other officials, Fasano said.
“We were called the pill mill state of the nation. We had the governor of Kentucky come out publicly for the state of Florida to have a PDMP. He said you are killing ‘Kentuckians.’ Every state that has a PDMP, their residents would come down. It was called the oxy express. They would come down to Florida in carloads and planeloads, get their prescriptions filled at the pill mills and head back to their state,” Fasano said.
As the war of words continued, other allies emerged, namely, Attorney General Pam Bondi, who also was hearing the sad stories about the loss of loved ones due to prescription drug abuse.
On June 3, Scott signed into law Fasno’s bill enhancing penalties for operators of pill mills, bringing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to a higher standard, and making other improvements to Florida’s laws regulating pain management, Fasano said.
“I really believe had she (Bondi) not intervened, we would not have protected the PDMP the way it has been protected and also to even go further in going after this and addressing the crisis,” Fasano said.
In response to Fasano’s comments, Amy Graham, Gov. Scott’s deputy communications director, said Scott has “always believed that the most effective weapon in the fight against the prescription drug abuse epidemic in Florida is a law enforcement solution that starts at the top of the distribution chain by targeting illegal distributors, pill mills and unscrupulous doctors.”
“This strategy allows law enforcement to stop the illegal flow of drugs in Florida communities before they reach the consumer,” Graham said.
In March, prior to testifying before Congress, Scott created the Statewide Drug Strike Force, which was supported by Bondi, after hearing from law enforcement the need for assistance and ‘boots on the ground’ to fight against illegal prescription drugs.”
Graham said that Scott’s initial concerns with the database stemmed from concerns over patient privacy, which were resolved with security measures and specific criteria for access to the database being implemented.