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Florida Pill Mill Regulations, Is It Working? DOJ Taps UCF Expert to Find Out

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By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotola

A University of Central Florida professor has been awarded a national grant to determine whether a lengthy law approved in 2011 to stop pill mills in Florida is really working.

The Sunshine State created the law because too many people were using prescribed narcotic drugs for non-medical or recreational purposes. At the peak of Florida's epidemic, seven people died each day in Florida from deaths related to prescription drugs. Another challenge was that 90 of the 100 doctors who most prescribed these drugs nationwide in 2010 operated in Florida, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration

The National Institute of Justice, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice,  awarded UCF Criminal Justice assistant professor Jacinta Gau a $250,000 grant to see if the law is being implemented as designed and whether it is making a difference.

"I think there's this misperception that because these drugs are made in clean facilities, unlike street drugs, that they are safe," Gau said. "These users might not think of themselves as junkies, but it's just as dangerous. There's a reason why these drugs, like oxycodone are monitored. They are quite dangerous even when given for legitimate reasons."

That's why Gau and her team will be checking to see if wholesalers, pharmacies and physicians are following the law the way they are supposed to and whether it is making a long-lasting difference.

The law  is complicated and goes hand in hand with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Drug Enforcement Strike Force, efforts by local law enforcement agencies, drug courts, and other methods of preventing the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.  The Florida Office of the Attorney General is partnering with the research team on the project.

The team will analyze the law's impact at three levels: wholesale distributors; pharmacies; and individual physicians and pharmacists. The aspects of the law that will get the most attention are: new reporting requirements pertaining to the distribution and dispensing of psychoactive prescription drugs (PPDs); new and improved regulations for pharmacies that seek first-time or renewed licenses for operation; a ban on physician dispensing of PPDs; and a new standard of care to which physicians are held when prescribing PPDs, and penalties for violations of that standard.

"I think that standard of care component is really important," Gau said. "It is a way to hold a negligent physician liable while giving ethical physicians a way to protect themselves."

One of the unique components of this study is that in addition to looking at the data, Gau and her team will interview physicians convicted of selling these drugs for profit.

"We want to know why, why would they put everything on the line to sell drugs," Gau said. "We don't often ask offenders, but when we do they sometimes come up with some great ideas for policies because they have been there."

Gau joined UCF in 2011 after three years as a faculty member at California State University at San Bernardino. She has a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Washington State University and her expertise is policing and community. She has also been a consultant to a police department in California.

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