TALLAHASSEE (AP) - A new Florida strike force will target unscrupulous doctors and pharmaceutical manufacturers illegally distributing prescription drugs to addicts and drug dealers, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi said Monday.
Scott said the project would be paid for with $800,000 in unused federal grant money. He noted that 98 of the 100 leading dispensers of these drugs nationally are doctors who reside in Florida. He's also bringing in several other state agencies to help the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with the investigation into the trafficking of prescription drugs and so-called pill mills. The pill mills have given the state a deserved but unwanted reputation as a haven for anyone looking for such drugs - most often the highly addictive pain-killer oxycodone.
More oxycodone is distributed illegally in Florida than all other states combined. Most of the illegal activity in Florida is in the areas surrounding Miami, Tampa and Orlando, where 126 million oxycodone pills have been distributed.
"For too long in Florida, drugs have ruined lives and threatened our safety," Scott said. "We should be able to figure out how to stop this."
Scott said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey will direct the strike force, which is aimed at eliminating the "flamingo express" - the nickname given to the pipeline of illicit prescription drugs that flow out of Florida to other states, most of which have prescription monitoring systems.
Scott, however, has proposed the state scrap a planned database for tracking prescription drugs, claiming privacy concerns. Bondi is opposed to Scott's suggestion and trying to work with him to find an alternative.
The strike force with also be assisted by the Florida Highway Patrol, investigators from the Division of Insurance Fraud, sheriff's departments and community police forces. The Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration will provide regulatory and licensing personnel.
The pill mill issue has been Bondi's primary focus since she was sworn in as attorney general less than three months ago.
"That is the mission of my life right now," said Bondi, who appointed former state Sen. Dave Aronberg as special counsel on the issue in late December. "We're going to put these people out of business."
The state's effort announced Monday comes less than a month after federal law enforcement officials in South Florida wrapped up a similar year-long probe that resulted in the arrests of at least five doctors in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Authorities said more arrests would be forthcoming.