The White House drug czar on Tuesday pointed to Florida as a source for deadly prescription pill abuses ravaging Kentucky, and urged its governor to rethink repealing a prescription monitoring program.
But Florida Gov. Rick Scott signaled he won’t budge from his recommendation to repeal the tracking system.
White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske called for a crackdown on Florida “pill mills” attracting drug dealers and addicts from states such as Kentucky.
Those facilities are “a direct pipeline to pills being supplied here in Kentucky and is directly responsible for the deaths of people here in Kentucky,” he said.
On Tuesday, he toured a substance abuse treatment program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville and later met with area law enforcement officials. Later this week, he’ll make other stops in the state, including Lexington, London and Pikeville.
President Barack Obama’s chief adviser on drug issues was invited to Kentucky by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said that fighting drug abuse takes “a large bite” out of government resources.
Prescription pill abuse has become so rampant that more people in Kentucky die by overdosing on drugs often found in the family medicine cabinet than from car crashes, according to state officials.
The Florida governor, a former hospital company CEO who took office this year, said Tuesday he was sticking with his budget recommendation to repeal the state’s yet-to-beimplemented prescription monitoring law.
His stand has triggered a strong backlash from politicians in Kentucky and several other states.
Several leading Kentucky politicians, including U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers and Attorney General Jack Conway, have urged Scott to back off repealing his state’s drug-tracking program. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear joined the chorus Tuesday with a letter to Scott urging him to implement the program, which Beshear said would become a lifesaver.
“Some Kentucky authorities estimate that 60 percent of the area’s illegal prescription pills come from Florida, and the Kentucky State Police arrested over 500 people in 2009 from eastern Kentucky who had traveled to Florida for this purpose,” Beshear said.
Last week, Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said the governor is concerned about the $500,000 price tag to run the program. Beyond cost, Scott is concerned about having the government tracking citizens’ personal use of prescription drugs, Burgess said.
Kerlikowske said Tuesday he hasn’t been in direct contact with the Florida governor but has offered to provide information and assistance in hopes he’ll reconsider his stand against the tracking law.
Prescription monitoring programs in dozens of other states, including Kentucky, have been effective in detecting physicians who overprescribe pills and patients who “doctor shop” to accumulate stashes of medicines, he said.
Florida lawmakers didn’t provide money for the tracking system, but instead directed the governor’s drug control office to raise private contributions. Scott disbanded the drug office soon after becoming governor.
Kerlikowske said that prescription pill abuse often draws national attention only when a celebrity dies from an overdose and isn’t fully recognized as a national problem.
“People don’t recognize that prescription drugs can kill you,” he said. “ They don’t recognize that prescription drugs are highly addictive. They often think they’re safe because after all it’s just a prescription.”
He said that drug prevention programs offer the best return on taxpayer dollars. He also praised treatment programs as a less-expensive option to prison.
Kerlikowske on Tuesday met with a handful of veterans who benefited from a substance abuse residential treatment program at the VA center in Louisville.
One of them, 25-yearold Dustin Gross of Louisville, credited the treatment program for turning around his life. Gross had both feet shattered by a roadside bomb while serving as a Marine in Iraq in 2006.
He became addicted to powerful pain medication, and was unable to beat his pill-popping habit until he entered the VA treatment program late last year.
Gross said he’s beaten his addiction, and is looking forward to going back to college.
“It saved my life, literally,” he said. “It’s given me hope, when I was hopeless.”