Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The GOP's Brave New World-- Rick Scott Walker


Although voters elected a lot of really crazy Republican governors last year-- just wait 'til Maine's Paul LePage decides he needs to be in the national spotlight, for example-- I doubt anyone thought a Koch Brothers shill in Wisconsin was going to take center stage at the freak show away from career criminal and Medicare swindler Rick Scott. But he has. While Scott Walker has been making a monkey out of himself with his ideological attack against unions that is reminiscent of the way actual Nazis went after organized labor, Rick Scott has been getting away with his own brand of monkey business. Yesterday Carl Hiaasen pulled back the covers at the Miami Herald and asks the questions many Floridians have been wondering for some time: "Has Florida finally elected a certifiable whack job as governor? Is Scott himself overmedicating? Undermedicating?"

Florida is pill mill central but Governor Scott thinks protecting the privacy of illegal drug addicts-- think Rush Limbaugh, one of the pill mills' biggest clients-- is more important than... well, the law. The law, for conservatives, is always about protecting the rich and powerful from society, never, never, never, the other way around.
Why would any sane or sober public official go out of his way-- very publicly-- to protect pill pushers and crooked doctors?

Thirty-eight states use databases to keep track of oxycodone and other painkillers that are now the most widely abused (and lethal) drugs in the country.

Florida is the largest state without such a database, and the undisputed epicenter of the sleazy illegal pill trade.

In the first six months of 2010, doctors in Florida prescribed nine times more oxycodone than was sold in the entire United States during that same period. Pain mills here have prospered wildly and proliferated-- in Broward County alone there are 130.

Two years ago, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a painkiller database, which would be privately funded. Law enforcement officers say it’s an absolutely essential tool for attacking storefront clinics and the drug dealers who flock to Florida from throughout the eastern United States.

The database should have been up and running by now, but bid disputes with private contractors have delayed implementation. Authorities were hoping to have the computerized system in place this spring, but then Scott took office and announced his intention to kill it, along with the state anti-drug office that conceived it.

No one can fathom why.

Top law enforcement officials, legislators and even the governor of Kentucky (which has been tragically saturated with pills from Florida) have asked Scott to reconsider, but he won’t budge.

Last week’s raids, carried out from Miami to West Palm Beach, gave another squalid glimpse of the crisis.

The clinics operate as high-volume dispensaries, sometimes with armed guards on patrol. Huge amounts of pills are prescribed by staff doctors to walk-in “patients” exhibiting few, if any, symptoms. Typically the buyers then go peddle the painkillers on the street for up to 10 times the amount they paid.

According to a federal indictment, seven clinics in Broward and Miami-Dade were controlled by a model citizen named Vincent Colangelo, a convicted heroin dealer.

Apparently pharmaceuticals now offer juicier profit-margins than smack.

Over a two-year period, Colangelo allegedly distributed more than 660,000 oxycodone pills, enriching him and his partners to the tune of $150,000 a day.

Fortunately, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has its own methods for tracking suspicious prescriptions, and the generous prescribing habits of several doctors attracted the agency’s attention. One of them was Dr. Zvi Perper, who wrote scripts for 387,000 oxycodone tablets in six months at a Delray Beach pain clinic.

Ironically, Zvi Perper is the son of Dr. Joshua Perper, the Broward County medical examiner. Given the sky-high overdose statistics in South Florida, it’s not farfetched to assume that the elder Perper has performed autopsies on some of the younger Perper’s pill-popping customers.

One view of Gov. Scott’s opposition to the drug database is that he’s an ideological extremist who doesn’t like any form of government snooping.

Perhaps there are hard feelings left over from his days at Columbia/HCA, when the feds were nailing the company for massive Medicare fraud.

In any case, one can’t help but wonder if Scott’s concern for shielding the privacy of dope dealers will extend to other criminals.

Perhaps next he’ll suggest abolishing the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which maintains a fiendishly thorough computer list of every automobile, truck and motorcycle registered in the state.

Heck, does a police officer really need to know if the car he’s pulling over at 4 a.m. on I-95 is stolen?

Among the many lawmakers in Tallahassee who are unhappy with the governor’s vision is Sen. Mike Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey and an energetic supporter of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

Fasano has vowed to do everything he can to get the database running and keep it in place, and he’s got enough clout to do it. Senate President Mike Haridopolis says public funding will be used if necessary.

It would be crazy for Scott to veto the measure, but he seems determined to redefine crazy at least once a week.

Last week’s raids on the pill mills provided some insight into whom and what the storefront dope peddlers fear.

High on the list are big pharmacy chains, which have no qualms about using computers.

One undercover agent sat in a room full of pill buyers being coached by a clinic nurse on how to get their hefty prescriptions filled without attracting attention.

“Do not go to Walgreens,” the nurse warned. “I can’t say this enough. They are not your friend; they are the enemy.”

Unlike a certain governor.

In a poll released yesterday, Floridians told their new governor that they're not crazy about his plans for the Everglades either. 55% oppose his cuts to the budget for restoring the Everglades and a staggering 81% said the state should manage growth to protect rivers, lakes, streams and beaches from pollution. Oh, and you know all that stuff Krugman said Sunday about Texas destroying public education? Rick Scott plans to catch up. "In his first eight weeks, he's put forth a budget proposal that slashes education spending-- an area in which low-wage, low-tech Florida can't really afford to scrimp-- by 15%." You get the idea this guy has a very dark vision for Florida's future? I mean, if not many people are educated and can't get around anyway, oxy will work out as well for Floridians as Soma did in Brave New World.

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