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Carl Hiaasen, Pam Bondi Weigh In on "Bath Salt" Drug Scare

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    What's off-white, crumbly, sold in gas stations, and goes up your nose? Hint: you're not actually supposed to take a bath with it. The party drug MDPV, marketed as "bath salts," packs the anxiety-laden punch of a vat of coffee and the comedown of a mild meth tweak, and apparently it's all the rage among kids in Florida. It's been the subject of a spate of Sun-Sentinel articles recently, and now Attorney General Pam Bondi says she's having nightmares about failing to ban the substance.

    Carl Hiaasen, in his Herald column, takes the state government to task for freaking out about bath salts while its response to an estimated seven deaths a day from prescription drug overdoses appears pretty lackadaisical.

    Proposed laws to clean up fly-by-night pain clinics that don't keep track of their prescriptions are caught up in lawsuits and Rick Scott's
    efforts to cut spending. Some new rules from the Board of Medicine would require a quick urine test for pain-clinic customers; that's being held up by Scott's regulatory reform office.

    So what about Bondi's nightmares? "I frankly had a nightmare last night that someone was going to overdose on this and we hadn't done anything," she confided. Hiaasen took her to task:

    Interestingly, she didn't mention having any nightmares about Florida's storefront pain clinics, which are still handing out Vicodins like Tic-Tacs, and overdosing customers at the rate of seven fatalities per day -- more than heroin, crystal meth and cocaine combined.

    Granted, what her nightmares are really about is probably the possibility that Rick Scott will hamper any kind of targeted drug-prosecution effort. He's already nixed the state Office of Drug Control, which leaves the attorney general (who doubtless has other things to do) in charge of fighting overdoses through prosecution. As the War on Drugs has shown us, that's exactly the least effective way to reduce drug abuse.

    Then Scott froze all new regulations until his staff can go through them one-by-one, which leaves criminal pill prescribers in the clear. The clinic owners who want to operate legitimately are left scratching their heads about what the law might be a few months from now.

    Bondi hired former state senator Dave Aronberg to fight "pill mills" from within her office, but there's no extra money for his post: she has to shuffle resources around from other departments. So the AG is left fighting a supply-side battle with few resources under an administration that's comically skeptical of anything that costs more than a prayer.

    Sorry, Pam. The last thing you need is another drug to combat. Might want to go draw a hot bath, close your eyes, and pretend that "bath salts" don't exist.

    By Stefan Kamph, Mon., Jan. 31 2011



  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Hey, gov: Don’t give pill mills license to kill

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called a press conference last week to ban a new party drug known as MDPV, which is being sold in head shops around the country as “bath salts.”

    Most users snort the stuff, which doctors say can cause wild hallucinations and violent behavior. Peddled as fake cocaine, MDPV has been linked to several deaths and suicides.

    Said Bondi, “I frankly had a nightmare last night that someone was going to overdose on this and we hadn’t done anything.”

    Interestingly, she didn’t mention having any nightmares about Florida’s storefront pain clinics, which are still handing out Vicodins like Tic-Tacs, and overdosing customers at the rate of seven fatalities per day — more than heroin, crystal meth and cocaine combined.

    Florida has become one of the nation’s favored destinations for prescription-drug dealers, who travel here to load up their car trunks and head north with the pills, which are sold on the black market for up to $30 each.

    More oxycodone is dispensed here than anywhere else in the country. During one especially bountiful six-month stretch of 2008, Broward doctors prescribed 6.5 million doses, almost four pills for every resident of the county.

    Efforts to shut down the unscrupulous clinics have been stymied by Bondi’s Republican colleague, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott. One of his first acts was to eliminate the state Office of Drug Control, which had been coordinating the war on pill mills.

    Scott’s executive order freezing all new regulations was another blessing for sleazy clinic owners, who’d been facing a slate of tough licensing standards from state medical officials. Now some of those restrictions will be delayed until the financial impact is assessed, in accordance with Scott’s “accountability” process.

    This is a fantastic development for those who prey on drug addicts, though it’s bad news for healthcare providers, law enforcement and taxpayers who are picking up the tab for most overdose admissions to emergency rooms.

    Certainly that’s not what the Legislature had in mind last spring when it took aim at the hundreds of pill mills that had sprung up throughout the state, especially in South Florida. Most of the clinics are still open today, churning out oxycodone prescriptions like confetti.

    Lawmakers had mandated that the state’s medical boards make strict new rules for the clinics, including penalties for violations. Legitimate pain-clinic operators and pharmacies generally supported the reforms.

    Not so fast, said the rule-hating governor.

    So the killer pill mills remain open, while Scott’s new “Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform” ponders the potential financial impact of urinalysis.


    Last week, the Florida Board of Medicine unanimously passed four rules aimed at curbing prescribing abuses at in-and-out clinics. But first the state had to pay for a quickie economic study that calculated the pain-clinic rules would cost the private sector about $69 million the first year, most of it for urinalysis.

    The tests are relatively inexpensive (about $17-per-pee), and would help clinics determine whether the customers were painkiller addicts or patients with true medical problems. The customers themselves would pay for the testing.

    For the governor’s staff to be meddling in such a clear-cut issue is a waste of time and resources. Apparently, seven dead Floridians a day isn’t enough evidence to convince Scott that there’s a crisis.

    Everyone else seems to get it, from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to local police agencies that have witnessed the pill clinics proliferate, and documented the convoys of dope mules arrive from other states.

    The Legislature in 2008 passed a law authorizing a computer data base to track narcotics prescriptions, which would help identify pill-peddling physicians as well as drug dealers who shop from one doctor to another.

    Yet the monitoring system still isn’t in place, and might not be until summer. Florida remains one of only 12 states without such a data network.

    More legislation took effect in October, in advance of Scott’s election. Before then, basically anyone could own a pain clinic, felons included. Now each clinic must show that it’s owned by a state-licensed physician, or conform to licensing standards as hospitals do.

    True, tough laws and rules won’t stop all crooked clinic owners and shady doctors, who can be as creative as they are greedy. But without something on paper to enforce, authorities can only peck at the problem.

    Many officials in Tallahassee do seem to grasp the nightmarish scope of the prescription-painkiller epidemic. To Bondi’s credit, she appointed former state Sen. Dave Aronberg to pursue pill-peddling operations statewide.

    But, like everyone else, Aronberg can’t do much until Scott’s little truth squad gets around to deciding (among other things) whether urine tests present an undue financial burden for Vicodin buyers.

    The governor wasn’t kidding when he said Florida is open for business. Just ask the creeps at your neighborhood pill mill.

    By Carl Hiaasen
    Posted on Saturday, 01.29.11

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