Drug deaths rise nationwide, decline in Fla.

Published On: Apr 01 2013 04:53:47 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Drug deaths nationwide are on the rise, but not in Florida.

The state is bucking the trend through targeted police work and a prescription drug monitoring database.

Not long ago, Florida was known as the pill mill capital of the world. Drug dealers from across the Southeast would drive to the Sunshine State to score piles of pills.

Now the state is on the fast track to shed the title. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows drug deaths nationwide up 3 percent, but in Florida drug deaths are down -- a fact Gov. Rick Scott is boasting about.

"We have had a dramatic impact by arresting individuals involved in the illegal selling of legal drugs," Scott said.

Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi created the Statewide Drug Enforcement Strike Force in 2011.

Since then, more than 4,000 people have been arrested in connection to pill mills -- 73 were doctors. The strike force has seized more than 850,000 pills and shut down 250 clinics.

"We still have a long way to go," said Rep. Mike Fasano. "We still have a lot of people who are addicted to these narcotics."

Fasano left his mark on Florida's pill mill war. As a state senator, he passed legislation creating a prescription drug monitoring database.

"Every pharmacist in the state has to use it when they add the information to that database," Fasano said.

But getting doctors to use the database has proven challenging. Less than 2 percent right now in Florida are logging on and checking out their patients. There's legislation that is moving in the House that would change that.

"We have a piece of legislation that would require every doctor that writes out a narcotic prescription to use that prescription drug monitoring program," Fasano said. "The bill only has one more committee before it goes to the floor."

As the state continues its war on pills, people in legitimate pain say they're being treated like criminals. Some say they can't get the medication they need.

Scott said he's open to listening to their concerns.