MANATEE COUNTY — Since 1999, the Office of Drug Control has been assisting local substance-abuse coalitions in their battles against the misuse of prescription drugs and other issues.
But now, those same agencies are left wondering, what’s next?
During his transition into office, Gov. Rick Scott announced the closure of the Office of Drug Control, a move that would trim about $551,300 from the state budget. How the duties of the office, which were handled by seven full-time employees — five for the Office of Drug Control and two for its subordinate Office of Suicide Prevention — still remain unknown. The resignations of Office of Drug Control staff were effective Jan. 3.
Scott’s communications director, Brian Burgess, in an e-mail Monday said only that the duties of the office will be absorbed by law enforcement and health agencies. A representative of the Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office said Dave Aronberg, in his newly created post, would be handling Bondi’s initiative to combat pill mills — pain clinics that excessively distribute prescription drugs. However, she did not know how, or if, other duties of the Office of Drug Control were being redistributed.
As it was created, the Office of Drug Control provided leadership for statewide strategy to prevent and address alcohol and drug problems, acted as the single coordinating agency for substance-abuse issues in the state, represented substance-abuse issues to the governor, worked to create inter-agency collaboration in reducing substance abuse and to accomplish policy and legislative initiatives.
Manatee-based advocates are worried initiatives supported by the Office of Drug Control, such as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, will disappear after the office’s closure.
“This was the one place we could talk holistically in one forum,” said Rita Chamberlain, consultant for the Manatee Substance Abuse Coalition’s underage drinking initiative, of the Office of Drug Control. “If you’re not talking big picture, you’re not (addressing) the problem. Once again, we are little islands.”
Sharon Kramer, executive director of the coalition, agreed.
“We’ve had one point of contact,” she said. “It kind of identifies the many things that one office did. Things are now fragmented. (It was) the one point of contact where a coalition, like ours, could go for information and resources.”
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube agreed the Office of Drug Control has been instrumental in local efforts to curb prescription drug abuse and the problems that go with it.
“If you look at the big picture of what the Office of Drug Control was doing, it’s very important,” Steube said. “If (Gov. Scott’s office is) eliminating something, I’m hoping the responsibilities fall to somebody else within the state government and those responsibilities and the details of these programs will be looked upon as important issues and worked on not only on the state level but the local level as well.”
However, Steube also said the move could result in the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy and potentially improve efficiency.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” he said. “If the responsibilities goes somewhere else, and they get proper attention, then I’m OK with that.”
OFFICE OF DRUG CONTROL
Gov. Jeb Bush created the Office of Drug Control in 1999 after a 1998 Senate report identified the need for greater coordination of statewide substance-abuse policy and planning. The Legislature created the Office of Drug Control and the Drug Policy Advisory Council in Florida Statute 397.332 and 397.33. The first statewide drug control strategy was published in September 1999.
The director of the office chaired the Drug Policy Advisory Council, Seaport Security Standards Advisory Council, the Suicide Prevention Coordinating Council and the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Oversight and Implementation Task Force.
Seven people die every day in Florida because of the misuse of prescription drugs.
“It’s an epidemic problem,” said Lakewood Ranch resident Wendy Nebrija of the prescription drug-abuse problem. “It’s a problem that needs a coordinated multi-disciplinary approach to solve. We need to balance the needs of the people who legitimately need pain medications with the problem that’s occurring on our community, regarding oversupply and getting (drugs) in the hands of young people.”
Nebrija, who has a background in public health and recently began volunteering with the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, said she has people close to her with addiction issues and knows four people in four different states, including Florida, who in the last six months received more pain medications than was necessary for their treatment.
Bruce D. Grant, former director of the Florida Office of Drug Control, in a letter dated Dec. 22, 2010, listed the following economic impacts, among others, as impacts of his office’s efforts.
• Prevention: The costs of drug and alcohol abuse to the state are estimated at $46 billion. The Office of Drug Control has put together 48 private drug prevention coalitions throughout the state. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says for every dollar invested in research-based prevention, $10 are saved in treatment costs alone.
• Medical Costs: Studies show about 50% of patients admitted to trauma centers are under the influence of alcohol. If the use of drugs other than alcohol are included, up to 70% of trauma patients test positive for one or more intoxicants. Failing to identify and treat substance use in emergency facilities likely costs Florida businesses and residents $473 million annually in extra healthcare expenses.
• Treatment: Treatment reduces drug use by 40-60% while reducing criminal behavior and is the most cost effective means of reducing drug use and crime, improving health and saving money in the criminal justice system. Drug courts mandating treatment save more than $15,000 per year per inmate diverted from prison.
• Prescription drugs: When the state had no funding for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, the office submitted for and received two federal grants totaling $450,000. It also established the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation, which has raised $500,000 toward the program’s implementation.
Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition member Ruth Lyerly, who founded Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse with East County resident Cindy Harney, noted the raid and closure of a pain clinic in Tampa less than a month ago as one of the reasons she feels the Office of Drug Control has been so important.
After a months-long investigation, Tampa Police arrested the married co-owners of First Medical Group, and physician Dr. Kimberly Daffem for racketeering, trafficking in a controlled substance and conspiracy to traffic in a controlled substance, according to a Dec. 30, 2010 article in the St. Petersburg Times. In just seven months, the clinic had prescribed pain medications to about 9,000 people. The two physicians who reviewed 107 randomly selected patient files said 92% of those patients did not need the medicines they were given.
The Office of Drug Control, Lyerly said, has been instrumental in shutting down such facilities and raising awareness about them while moving forward key legislation such as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which will allow doctors to see what medicines already have been prescribed to a patient.
“(That office has) always kept us up to date (on legislation, etc),” Lyerly said. “They’ve been the one to get the process going. How long will it take for (someone else) to pick up the reigns? How many lives will be lost in that time?”
Lyerly said she has met with representatives of Rep. Vern Buchanan’s office twice already and will meet again this week to try to get a congressional hearing scheduled for the topic of prescription drug abuse, particularly on subjects such as mandatory physician training in opiate use, real time databases and the scheduling of opiates.
PROJECT DRUG DROP
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office will be accepting unused or expired prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for proper disposal at several Publix locations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Jan. 22.
Drop off Publix locations include:
• 7290 55th Ave. E., Bradenton (Twelve Oaks Plaza)
• 8330 Market Street, Bradenton (Lakewood Ranch)
• 3913 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton (Westgate Shopping Center)
• 9005 U.S. 301 N., Parrish (Parkwood Square)
• 6030 14th St. W., Bradenton (Bayshore Gardens)
Citizen Medication Collection Program
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 3 began its Citizen Medication Collection Program, an effort aimed to provide a safe disposal location for unused prescription medications.
The sheriff’s office front desk at 600 301 Blvd., W., Bradenton, where drugs can be dropped off, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Medications should be placed into a supplied plastic bag and placed in the drop box. Liquids will not be accepted.
For information, contact 747-3011, Ext. 2278.