TALLAHASSEE — Even from his perch as Pasco County tax collector, Mike Fasano is still making his presence felt in the Capitol when it comes to his signature legislation, the state's prescription drug monitoring database.
When lawmakers ended their annual session Friday, they had not set aside any money for the program aimed at controlling prescription drug abuse. Fasano knew there was only enough money to operate the database through October.
"A $77 billion budget, and the governor and the Florida Legislature did not fund a program that is saving lives," he said of the database, which costs $500,000 a year to run.
Over the weekend, Fasano reached out to the project's highest-profile supporter in Tallahassee, Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi announced Monday that she will use $2 million the state received as part of a 2008 national prescription drug fraud settlement with Caremark Rx to keep the database going for four more years.
"The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is one important tool in the battle against prescription drug abuse, and by funding it for four years with this settlement money, we can ensure that it continues to be an effective tool," Bondi said in a news release.
She highlighted Florida's improving prescription drug abuse statistics, saying they are proof that the fledgling program is working: Drug-related deaths are decreasing, oxycodone deaths are way down, and the nation's largest pill mills are no longer found in Florida.
Still, the database is not a universally beloved program.
It was established under Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009, but the Republican-led Legislature would not give the voluntary program state tax dollars.
The database didn't launch until 2011. Then in 2013, the medication histories of 3,300 people were released as part of a fraud investigation in Volusia County, prompting concerns about privacy.
The Legislature did agree last year to a one-time $500,000 payment to fund the program. Senate Bill 862, which included changes to protect the confidentiality of patient information, would have provided another $500,000 allocation this year but failed to win passage.
Fasano worries there are too few advocates for the database.
"Other than the attorney general, now you have no one else that's advocating on behalf of the funding for a program that saves lives," he said.
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