Florida drugstores' actions might lessen Kentucky's pill pipeline problem

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJuly 29, 2009 

In a move to shut down the pill pipeline, some independent pharmacies in Florida are refusing to fill prescriptions that out-of-state residents obtain from Florida pain clinics.

The trend, reported Sunday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, is part of an effort to stop what's become known in Kentucky as the pill pipeline.

Kentuckians and other out-of-state visitors go to Florida and obtain drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone legally from naive or unethical physicians, then use them in the illegal drug trade in their home states.

"We're looking at doctor shopping. We don't fill prescriptions for people who don't have a Florida ID," Yana Birbrayer, pharmacy manager of the Linton Square Pharmacy in Delray Beach, Fla., told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that pharmacies also are taking measures to make sure they don't turn away legitimate patients such as "snowbirds and tourists."

In Vanceburg in northeastern Kentucky, Lewis County Sheriff Bill Lewis is encouraged that some Florida drugstores are turning away the out-of-state pill seekers. In Lewis County, he said, 28 people were charged in June with drug offenses related to pills prescribed by Florida physicians.

Lewis said that pharmacists, physicians and pharmaceutical industry officials should all be working on the problem.

"They created this baby. They ought to have to rock it," Lewis said.

At some Kentucky drugstores, pharmacists are calling the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy to ask what they should do when presented with prescriptions from Florida pain clinics, said Mike Burleson, the board's executive director.

Burleson said he tells the pharmacists to follow Kentucky law, which says that "lawful prescriptions result from a valid practitioner-patient relationship, are intended to address a legitimate medical need, and fall within the prescribing practitioner's scope of professional practice."

In Lewis County, pharmacist Mark Antis said that under the Kentucky law, he has determined that he cannot fill some of the prescriptions from Florida pain clinics.

"I've had some calls from people," said Antis, who works at Osman Pharmacy, "and I've said no."

Out-of-state prescription drug seekers are finding ways around the new policies by going to pain clinics that also have pharmacies or by obtaining a Florida driver's license or ID card.

Kentuckians are traveling to Florida to escape the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system. It tracks controlled substance prescriptions dispensed within the state. A KASPER report shows all scheduled prescriptions for an individual over a specified time period, as well as the prescriber and the dispenser.

The overdose deaths of dozens of Kentuckians are being blamed on the ease with which they are able to get the pills in Florida, which has not had a system like KASPER. But, earlier this year, Florida lawmakers passed a law creating a similar prescription monitoring system there.

The South Florida independent pharmacies' action came in response to the new Florida law, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Though the monitoring system is not yet up and running there, the law has heightened awareness of prescription pill abuses in the state and the resulting illegal drug trade.

First Assistant Fayette County Attorney Brian Mattone said he thought the pharmacists' decisions would help solve Lexington's problem with the prescriptions obtained from Florida.

"Any measure that can be taken along this pipeline is going to be helpful," Mattone said.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3409.

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