Federal fight against prescription-drug abuse puts pressure on Florida

The hearing was called by Energy and Commerce Committee commerce panel Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who has personal experience with prescription drug abuse's toll on families. Florida has come under particular scrutiny because of its central role in a growing public health threat that causes some 30,000 deaths a year: More than 41 million oxycodone pills were dispensed there in the first six months of 2010, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, almost 90 percent of the nationwide total; and 98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing oxycodone nationally are in Florida.

Scott acknowledged the problem when he testified alongside Beshear last week but made it clear that he favors a law enforcement approach. The governor has fought to overturn a state prescription database approved by the state legislature, citing privacy concerns, but recently dropped his opposition.

That position did not endear him to members of both parties from states that are seeing their teenagers get addicted to painkillers arriving from the Sunshine State.

"The notion of canceling Florida's PDMP is equal to firing firefighters while your house is ablaze; it neither makes sense nor addresses an urgent crisis," House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) wrote in a February letter to Scott. "Governor, your state, more than any other, must take this crisis seriously."

Rogers has another stake in the fight over the databases: He's the author of an eponymous Department of Justice grant program that helps state law enforcement agencies collect and analyze prescription drug data. Several times during last week's hearing, Beshear urged lawmakers to continue funding the Rogers grant program.

Critics say the Rogers grants are duplicative with a federal law that also helps states build monitoring programs. The Drug Enforcement Administration has called for Congress to reauthorize the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting, which was signed into law in 2005 and is under the authority of HHS.

In his testimony, Scott made no mention of his efforts to repeal the database. Instead, he highlighted the fact that his administration has begun moving forward with its implementation.

Still, the governor couldn't resist a dig at the privacy concerns he sees with prescription drug monitoring. He referenced a 2009 breach of the Virginia's prescription-drug database during which hackers said they'd obtained more than 8.2 million patient records and left a ransom note.

"So," Scott testified, "while the database in Florida is brought online, I continue working with my legislative partners to find solutions that protect patient privacy."

The Pulitzer-Prize winning PolitiFact website recently rated that statement "mostly true." The database was indeed breached, the website reported, but no evidence ever emerged that the hackers were able to view patient records.

Beshear said Kentucky's database has never been violated.

Scott's decision to reverse his earlier opposition to Florida's database drew praise from Rogers after last week's hearing.

"It is no secret Florida's pill mills have been ground zero for the illicit diversion of the drugs that are wreaking havoc in Kentucky and around the country, and I'm glad Governor Scott has finally seen the light," Rogers said in a statement. "This is a great day for the Commonwealth and all of our neighboring states that have been impacted by the prescription pain pills rapidly funneling out of Florida to feed the addiction epidemic plaguing our families."