A parent's worst nightmare is having to bury a child. That nightmare is becoming a tragic reality for far too many families in Florida.
On average, seven people die from prescription drug abuse every day in Florida. These are not just numbers.
Garrett Harney's last words of despair to his mother were "Mom, I can't be helped." Garrett overdosed on oxycontin and xanax in 2006. His mother, a Sarasota resident, is now trying to help save lives by spreading the important message that prescription drug abuse is a deadly serious problem in Florida.
I held a public forum in Sarasota last week to discuss ways to combat the growing threat of illegal "Pill Mills." These so-called "pain management" clinics are nothing more than drug dealers posing as doctors and health providers. They have turned Florida into the nation's warehouse for narcotics. Florida has more pain clinics than McDonald's restaurants.
As a result of what I heard from families and law enforcement authorities who attended my public forum, as well as my discussions with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and others, I have drafted legislation to put these Pill Mills out of business and make our communities safer again.
My three-point bill to be introduced next week in the U.S. House of Representatives will do the following:
- Toughen federal penalties for Pill Mill operators by doubling the prison sentence from 10 to 20 years and tripling the fine from $1 million to $3 million.
- Use assets seized from violators to fund drug monitoring databases in the states, enforce actions against Pill Mills; and for drug treatment programs. The DEA last month seized an estimated $2.5 million in illicit assets owned by Pill Mill owners in South Florida.
- Reclassify hydrocodone combination drugs (one of the most addictive and dangerous drug mixtures) to make them a Schedule II drug that is more difficult to prescribe and obtain.
I support a state drug database approved by the Florida Legislature that would allow us to track these narcotics and identify abusive practices. Florida's prescription drug epidemic has exploded upon us in just a few short years due to the proliferation of an estimated 1,300 Pill Mills.
The cost of this epidemic is enormous. Lower employee productivity. Higher emergency room diagnostic and treatment costs. The high cost of drug addiction treatment itself. The $15,000 - $20,000 in costs to treat addicted babies in neonatal intensive care. The $1.4 million in lifetime costs that addicts incur. Rising health insurance premiums to pay for uncompensated care. The burden on taxpayers and society is staggering.
My legislation attacks the root of this problem -- Pill Mills. The first responsibility of government is to protect its people from harm. While there may be sharp differences of opinion about the ever-growing role of government in the 21st Century, I think we would all agree that shutting down these Pill Mills, and the pain they have caused countless families and the costs they have passed along to the rest of us, should be a high priority.
And we can achieve this goal without appropriating new money or expanding government. Everyone benefits. Except the drug dealers posing as health care providers.