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Florida Governor Ties Himself in Knots to Shield Illegal Painkiller Trade

There is no end to Florida governor Rick Scott's hypocrisy on the issue of "pill mills" -- the loosely regulated clinics that liberally dispense OxyContin, oxycodone, and other addictive painkillers to mules who then sell the drugs illegally in other states.

Even though "more oxycodone is distributed illegally in Florida than all other states combined" and "98 of the 100 leading dispensers of these drugs nationally are doctors who reside in Florida," according to the Associated Press, Scott has successfully opposed the funding of a pill-mill database that would track prescription trends and allow law enforcement to see which clinics are dispensing too many prescriptions.

Scott is the founder of Solantic, a chain of pill mills walk-in clinics in Florida. He owns $62 million of Solantic's stock. (He also took campaign contributions from painkiller-maker Pfizer.)

The funding for the database would not have cost taxpayers a dime: OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma offered Scott a $1 million grant to pay for the database. But Scott said "no thanks." Here's Alan Must, Purdue'svp/government affairs:

We were so disappointed when we heard that it might go away ... We want this [database] to happen. It doesn't do us any good to have that illegal business in Florida.
The context here is that Purdue's former CEO, R&D chief and chief legal counsel have all been banned from doing business with the federal government and the company paid a $634 million settlement over its history of marketing OxyContin to addicts. In other words, when even Purdue thinks there ought to be more government oversight of its business, we probably ought to listen.

Let the turf war begin!
Instead, Scott wants a "strike force" to go after the state's pill mills, he announced Tuesday. The force will be composed of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Division of Insurance Fraud, sheriff's departments, community police forces, the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Local law enforcement officers do lots of good work, but they're also really good at getting into unproductive turf wars that foil their own investigations as they compete for credit by withholding information and evidence from each other. Scott's strike force -- six different agencies! -- seems designed to achieve just that.

Worse, all the members of the strike force will, nominally, be employees of the state of Florida -- i.e. Scott is their boss. How enthusiastic will they be about investigating their boss's company? That's assuming they ever come across any evidence in the first place -- without a database to work from, the strike force will have to approach its targets based on anecdotal evidence from whistleblowers and crime suspects. That catch-as-catch-can approach will make it very easy for the force to avoid looking too closely at Solantic.

To underline the knots into which Scott has twisted himself to avoid funding the database, bear in mind that this is the same governor who turned down $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando on the grounds that it was a waste of tax dollars. Yet the pill mill database, as funded by Purdue, would have been a cost-free initiative paid for by a private company eager to inject some transparency into a murky business.


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