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Florida prescription drug monitoring program in jeopardy

A contract dispute could cause the state to miss a December deadline to have the system up and running.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Sept. 28, 2010

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Contractual issues have threatened to tie up a prescription drug monitoring program set to launch in Florida in December. Officials are worried about the impact a delay might have on prescription drug abuse in the state.

The contractual issues came to light after Optimum Technology of Columbus, Ohio, filed a formal protest to the contract awarded to Health Information Design, an Auburn, Ala., company that was to run the monitoring database and system. Optimum said the bid submitted by HID did not comply with specifications, and that scoring on the bids relied on arbitrary methods.

Eulinda Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Dept. of Health, which was in charge of awarding the bids, said she didn't know how long it would take for the issue to be resolved but that the program will remain on hold until a contract has been awarded.

When the Florida Legislature enacted a law calling for the program in 2009, it came as welcome news to R. Gil Kerlikowske, who had just been named director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He spent the majority of his law enforcement career in Florida and witnessed firsthand the prescription drug abuse going on in the state.

Bruce Grant, director of the governor's Office of Drug Control in Florida, said the state's inability to meet the Dec. 1 deadline set by the law would mean serious public health ramifications if there is a long delay. He said statistics show seven people die in Florida each day because of prescription drug overdoses -- about four times higher than overdoses caused by illegal drugs.

Grant said the legal issues came after the department successfully fought its first battle -- finding funding to start the program. State law mandated the program but prohibited the use of state funds to establish it. A nonprofit entity was created and charged with raising money for the program. More than $500,000 was raised through donations from private companies, and the remaining amount was obtained through federal grants.

Grant said it will take an additional $450,000 a year to keep the program up and running.

Several states have struggled with funding for prescription drug monitoring programs. Ten states have laws authorizing the programs but don't have a program launched. Thirty-four states have programs up and running. Grant said many states, like Florida, are struggling to find funds to establish the programs and keep them operational for the long term.

A bill pending in the U.S. House would provide $15 million in 2011 and $10 million each year from 2012 through 2015 to be awarded to states that set up prescription drug monitoring programs.

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