Despite success, drug database faces hurdles to survive

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BRADENTON – The law of supply and demand tells Rita Chamberlain that the Florida's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program has worked.

“We know that we're taking the supply out of the community,” the Manatee County Drug Abuse Coalition coordinator says. Oxycodone pills that once fetched $8 on the street now cost more than $30. “It's telling us that we're making a difference in the supply chain of what's on the street.

Despite what its backers call a life-saving success, the PDMP itself almost died in the state legislature. Only an eleventh-hour plea to legislative leaders pushed through another $500,000 to fund the program for another year.

“There are still people in the Florida legislature, especially in the Florida House in leadership who do not want this PDMP and would like it just to go away by starving it to death,” says State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, perhaps the legislature's most ardent champion of the PDMP.

 At MCSAC, Chamberlain can see that some doctors check the state's database before they write prescriptions. “The acceptance of the PDMP is kind of out there already,” she says. “Physicians, especially pain management clinic physicians, are getting used to the idea.” Currently in Manatee County, only doctors whose clinics or offices write more than 25 prescriptions for the narcotics covered under the PDMP must consult the database before writing prescriptions.

Chamberlain would like to see that loophole closed, so that all doctors who write those prescriptions check the database first. “Mandatory would make it happen sooner,” she says. “And sooner when you're talking about death is always better.” She says MCSAC works to encourage doctors to use the PDMP voluntarily.

“We did have a bill that came close to passing that would have required at least doctors that prescribe a narcotic to use it on the first visit of that patient,” says Fasano, adding that the Florida Medical Association “adamantly opposed” it. It was all lawmakers could do to keep the program going in any form, with the one year appropriation circumventing the state law that prohibits state funding for the PDMP.  Lawmakers will have to revisit the issue again next year.

For now, Chamberlain is happy to have it again this year. “It's never a surprise to find that it's a struggle to get money to do good things,” she says. “We've been finding that for funding for prevention activities for decades.”