Doctors have emerged as key figures in Florida’s prescription drug abuse crisis, a scourge that now kills seven Floridians a day, reports the St. Petersburg Times. While only a small number of doctors cause problems, one doctor seeing 80 patients a day – not uncommon in some pain clinics – can potentially put 20,000 pills a day in the hands of drug abusers and traffickers. Yet it’s not easy to take away a doctor’s prescription pad. A Times investigation found that the system for identifying and disciplining doctors is plagued with long delays, light penalties and testy finger-pointing among regulators, law enforcement and lawmakers over who should be doing what.
The Times reviewed the cases of nearly 200 Florida medical and osteopathic doctors accused of inappropriately prescribing pain medications – the 159 doctors who have been disciplined by state health regulators since 2005, plus an additional three dozen who have come to the attention of regulators and law enforcement but have not been disciplined. These physicians are linked to at least 99 overdose deaths, yet the review found that more than a fourth of the disciplined doctors still have clear and active licenses, meaning they can practice and prescribe without restriction; that even a prison sentence is no guarantee a doctor will lose his license; that it takes 18 months or more for the state Department of Health to take disciplinary action, and that the Legislature has dragged its feet in enacting measures to curb prescription drug abuse.