St. Petersburg, Florida - Day after day, week after week, Bay Area law enforcement officers make prescription drug arrests-addicts, doctor shopper and dealers. Cops say pill abuse in Florida is a growing killer.
"Oh absolutely, we're losing seven people a day in the state of Florida," says Capt. Robert Alfonso of the Pinellas Sheriff's Office.
Alfonso is on the frontlines of narcotics enforcement in the county and he's disheartened that Governor Rick Scott wants to take away some long-awaited help-a prescription drug monitoring program or PDMP. "PDM would be just another tool that law enforcement has to be able to really make a difference," says Alfonso.
In his recently released budget, Scott asks legislators to repeal the 2009 law that created the PDMP, even though private money is already in place to run it for the first year.
The start of the program has been delayed, because of legal battles over the state's bidding process. However, when asked on Tuesday about wanting to cut the program, the Governor responded as if it were already running. "That program has not been working. I'm working with Attorney General Bondi to deal with the (pill mill) issue that we have," said Scott.
The goal of the PDMP is to cut down on doctor shopping and prescription drug fraud. Doctors and pharmacists would voluntarily create a computer database of people buying powerful pain meds like oxycodone and then they'd be able to check that database to see if people are getting too many pills too often.
A supporter of the PDMP is Laurie Serra of Clearwater. "This is a huge epidemic that needs to be addressed," says Serra. She believes a monitoring program could have helped save her stepson Matthew Serra. Once a star swimmer, a back injury led Matthew down the road to pain pill addiction and the 28-year-old overdosed in 2008.
Laurie Serra helped fight to get the PDMP law passed and she believes the Governor's plans to ax it now are just dead wrong. "People are dying and we can't wait," she says. "I heard a quote that he said the program isn't working-Governor Scott, the program hasn't even started!"
38 states already have similar drug monitoring programs in place.