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Pill woes land Limbaugh in Capitol debate

by Jim Ash Friday, Jan. 09, 2004 at 6:17 PM

Jim McDonough, The director of Govnernor Jeb Bush's Office of Drug Control Policy, claimed that "the pharmacist in that (Limbaugh) case is a pharmacist who is no longer licensed" and that he sold Limbaugh and others thousands of pills "essentially out of the trunk of his car"

Palm Beach Post

January 8, 2004

TALLAHASSEE -- Once an icon for rising Republicans who now dominate state government, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has become a Capitol poster boy in the fight against prescription drug abuse.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Charlie Crist and Florida drug czar Jim McDonough mentioned Limbaugh's addiction to pain pills -- and charges that he illegally obtained them -- while urging the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to fight an epidemic that they insist is claiming five lives a day.

"The pharmacist in that (Limbaugh) case is a pharmacist who is no longer licensed," McDonough, the director of Gov. Jeb Bush's Office of Drug Control Policy, told committee members. Regardless, the pharmacist sold Limbaugh and others thousands of pills "essentially out of the trunk of his car," McDonough said.

Limbaugh's attorney, Roy Black of Miami, was in meetings Wednesday and unavailable to respond to requests for comment, said an assistant who answered the phone at his office. Limbaugh has acknowledged an addiction to legally prescribed medication but denies breaking any laws.

McDonough said Limbaugh's case underscores the need to act more quickly to prosecute the relatively small number of doctors and pharmacists who profit from the black market trade in prescription drugs.

Both Crist and McDonough support a proposal -- gaining steam in the House and Senate -- to create a statewide computer network to track all prescriptions, allowing police to identify "doctor shopping" addicts who obtain multiple prescriptions from unsuspecting physicians.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer is investigating charges that Limbaugh did just that, although Limbaugh vigorously denies it. Limbaugh complained to millions of his listeners that the prosecution is politically motivated -- the charges are extremely rare -- and an invasion of his privacy.

Crist said Limbaugh's notoriety has "probably" given the proposed legislation an added boost. McDonough agreed.

"I do think we need to act more quickly, cognizant of due process, to spare lives," McDonough said.

Armed with a recent statewide grand jury report that estimates the state is losing .3 billion of its billion Medicaid budget to fraud -- including providers who resell drugs billed to Medicaid -- Crist treaded more lightly when his remarks inevitably turned to Limbaugh.

Regulators should fight profiteers, but treat addicts with understanding, Crist said.

"There's a recent case that's got an awful lot of attention, it deals with a radio show host," said Crist, a conservative Republican and veteran of three statewide political campaigns. "If they're addicted, we need to be compassionate."

Limbaugh has temporarily persuaded a court to keep his medical records sealed, arguing that allowing prosecutors to study them would interfere with his treatment.

House leaders also cited privacy concerns last year when they blocked the legislation after it passed the Senate. Doctor groups argued against increased regulation. Patient advocates said the legislation would discourage physicians from using the most potent tools to alleviate suffering.

But a modified version of the legislation passed a Senate committee on Tuesday, one that includes criminal penalties for illegally sharing the information. McDonough wants more laws that will give regulators greater power to fight Medicaid fraud and medical examiners more responsibility to report suspicious trends in deaths attributed to prescription drug abuse.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the prime sponsor of the prescription-tracking legislation, denied that Limbaugh's case is changing minds. It passed the Senate last year, long before Limbaugh's troubles became public, Fasano said.

"Privacy is an important issue but when we're in crisis mode we need to respond appropriately," Crist said. "We need to stop the bleeding first."

"I don't want to be ghoulish and say one person's misery is helping my cause," McDonough said. "It's illustrative of the degree to which addicts will go. They will risk their careers, their reputations, their very lives."
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