TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

April 15, 2011

Beshear talks to Congress about state’s prescription drug problem


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By RONNIE ELLIS/CNHI News Service

Gov. Steve Beshear told members of the U.S. Congress it should continue to fund a program to monitor sales and trafficking of prescription pain-killing drugs. And he announced Kentucky will get a little help from Florida in its battle against the drugs.

“The fastest growing, most prolific substance abuse issue facing our country is the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs,” said Beshear. He called the problem of prescription painkillers in Kentucky a “horrific epidemic,” saying it is now responsible for more accidental deaths in Kentucky than vehicle crashes.

Beshear asked the congressmen to continue funding the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, to promote exchange of data between states on the sales of such drugs. Rogers is a leading advocate of funding for drug education, treatment and eradication programs because his Fifth District is ravaged by abuse of painkillers. He started the UNITE Program there, steering federal dollars to the district to fight the drug epidemic.

Much of the influx of pain killers has been tracked to Florida where Kentucky residents travel to “doctor shop” and secure the drugs, bringing them back to Kentucky. In 2009, Kentucky law enforcement arrested 500 in connection with transporting the drugs into the state from Florida during a crackdown named “Operation Flamingo Road” — the largest drug bust in state history.

Beshear, Rogers, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway have been urging Florida Gov. Rick Scott to reverse his decision not to fund implementation of a drug tracking system similar to the one used in Kentucky and called KASPAR. But, until Thursday, Scott had publicly said he wouldn’t recommend funding it, citing privacy concerns.

Scott also testified Thursday before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and Beshear later said he spoke privately with Scott who told him Florida will move ahead with implementation.

“Gov. Scott advised me privately and at the hearing that he was moving ahead with the implementation of a prescription drug monitoring system,” Beshear said later in a statement.  “This is great news for Kentucky and could save thousands of lives.”

Conway and Mongiardo were also elated.

“His actions will likely help shut down the prescription pill pipeline that runs from Florida to Kentucky,” Conway said.  “In fact, our law enforcement officers estimate 60 percent of illegal pain pills on the streets of Kentucky right now are from Florida. I have no doubt the implementation of electronic monitoring in Florida will help save lives in Kentucky.”

Mongiardo said implementation of a monitoring program in Florida is “a key component in getting a handle on this problem.”

In his testimony Thursday, Beshear also called for greater training for prescribers of such pain-killing medication and more funding for law enforcement officers in Florida to combat the threat of exportation of such drugs to other states.

He said Kentucky “is not an island” and no individual state can effectively deal with the problem on its own.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort