Florida has been the number-one state in the nation for years when it comes to sales of painkillers. Of all the Oxycodone sold nationwide in 2010, 89 percent was sold here. Much of that went to addicts and drug dealers both within the state and far beyond.
In 2010, Florida lawmakers passed tough restrictions on the sale of Oxycodone and other Schedule II and Schedule III drugs. The law tightens the rules on prescribing painkillers and penalizes doctors who prescribe too many of them with six-month suspensions and minimum fines of $10,000. It also bars doctors, with a few exceptions, from dispensing the drugs from their offices.
Ft. Pierce general practitioner Dr. Dwight Dawkins is among those saying the law makes legitimate prescriptions too difficult. He recently had to order a urine test to prove an 80-year-old patient was not a drug addict. He says that some patients with chronic pain are required to visit their doctors every month, when he otherwise might ask to see them only once every three months. Dawkins says that he is committed to getting his patients the medicine they need, but does not plan on taking on new patients who will require pain medication.
About a dozen people recently rallied outside the state capitol in Tallahassee in protest of the painkiller crackdown, which they see as preventing legitimate pain patients from getting needed medicine and causing needless suffering. Protester Robin Haas has undergone 16 surgeries as the result of two car accidents. She has prescriptions for morphine and Oxycodone, but says it can take weeks to find a pharmacy willing to fill them. She also says the law has prejudiced pharmacy personnel against people with painkiller prescriptions and that she is treated like a criminal.
Another provision of the law has many worried about privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality. Every time a prescription for these controlled substances is filled, the name of the doctor prescribing the drug and the patient receiving it are entered into a statewide database known as E-FORCSE. Advocates of the program say it will serve to deter and track doctors and patients who would abuse these prescriptions. But defense attorneys say it gives law enforcement easy access to confidential medical data.
Law enforcement officers who wish to access medical records as part of a criminal investigation have to show probable cause and persuade a judge to sign off on a warrant. But protections of data in the prescription drug monitoring database are more lax. Investigators wishing to access the database must demonstrate that the data pertain to an investigation, and a program manager must approve the request. But a search warrant and the consent of a judge are not required.