health care

Fried: State should crack down on rogue pot docs

img_1116State medical boards should take action against Florida physicians who are inappropriately recommending medical marijuana for their patients, Florida Cabinet member and state Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said Tuesday.

“Our priority is making sure we have professionals inside of this program,” said Fried, a Democrat and former medical marijuana lobbyist who ran for the statewide Cabinet post last year  on the promise of making medical marijuana more easily accessible to those who qualify.

“But, of course, if any doctors are getting in the program and are unethically prescribing and recommending the medical marijuana, that’s something that we need to look into and that’s something for the Board of Medicine to have some swift action on,” she added.

The News service of Florida reported in December that a new state analysis prepared for the Legislature shows that the number of Floridians using medical marijuana continues to grow despite a slow rollout.

In the first nine months of 2018, more than 136,000 patients across the state received certifications from 1,070 physicians to receive medical marijuana.

In all, those patients received 174,254 certifications — some could have received multiple certifications — for a host of medical conditions that qualify them to use marijuana. That included 41,143 certifications, or nearly 24 percent of the overall total, for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report, issued by the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel, also shows that physicians in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties accounted for more than 30 percent of the medical marijuana certifications between January and Sept. 30.

The average medical-marijuana dose ordered was 372 milligrams per day, according to the data. But in Highlands County, where 470 patients were certified to receive the drugs, the average dose was 3,956 milligrams.

And in Nassau County, where two patients were reported as being certified, the average dose ordered was 17 milligrams.

Thirty-one states allow patients to use medical marijuana, including nine states that also have approved marijuana for recreational purposes.

Lawmakers in 2017 passed a state law authorizing the use of medical marijuana, which was approved by Florida voters in November 2016.  The new law required Florida’s two medical boards to form a joint committee that examines and analyzes the ordering patterns for physicians who certify patients. The panel is required to annually submit a report to the governor and legislative leaders. The new report is the first time such a document has been produced and submitted to the Legislature.

The Legislature is expected to address medical marijuana when it meets in its regular 60-day legislative session that is scheduled to begin March 5.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana runs afoul the intent of amendment, and has given lawmakers until March 15 to repeal the smoking ban.

— By The News Service of Florida staff writer Christine Sexton.

Will Bob Brooks return to his old stomping grounds at DOH?

A state House committee on Wednesday was briefed on the workings at the mammoth Florida Department of Health, the only health care related agency in Florida that remains leaderless.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was sworn into office Tuesday, has appointed secretaries for the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

But the Department of Health secretary — who doubles as the state’s surgeon general and is in charge of 13,410 employees and a $2.96 billion operating budget — remains a mystery.

Sort of.

Rumors are flying in Tallahassee that infectious-disease specialist and former state lawmaker, Bob Brooks, has emerged as the leading candidate to head the department.

bob_brooksOther candidates the DeSantis administration was said to be considering were Jacksonville surgeon Mark Dobbertien, and John J. Pirrello, a family physician from Hudson.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida Wednesday, Brooks said that he spoke with DeSantis before the holidays and  “gave him input and suggestions” about health care in the state.

But Brooks stressed  that he had not heard back from DeSantis and that  he has “not been offered anything.”

Brooks, who did not serve on the DeSantis transition committee on health and wellness, said the meeting with DeSantis provided an opportunity for him to share his thoughts.

Brooks said that the meeting was arranged by “someone who knows both of us,” but stopped shy of providing any more details, including whether or not he had a face-to-face meeting with DeSantis or how long it lasted.

If  DeSantis taps Brooks for the position, it will be a homecoming of sorts.

Brooks was first  elected to the Legislature in 1994, and during his tenure was known for his strident opposition to abortion rights. He also condemned Walt Disney World for offering benefits to gay employees’ partners.

In 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush  tapped Brooks to head the DOH. Among other things, Brooks increased spending on abstinence programs while secretary.

Following the Bush administration, Brooks joined Florida State University in 2001 and helped establish its  medical school. He joined the faculty at the University of South Florida in 2009. Brooks tried unsuccessfully to return to the Florida Legislature in 2012 but was edged by Democrat Linda Stewart.

The DeSantis administration remains tight-lipped but Alan Levine, who also worked for Bush and who serves as the vice-chairman of the transition committee on health and wellness, praised Brooks.

“I think he would be a great pick.” Levine said.

— By News Service of Florida staff writer Christine Sexton.

Throwback Wednesday: Connie Mack IV, Rick Scott and Bill Nelson

Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign trope about the length of time his opponent, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, has spent in office, with ads featuring such things as broken-down Pintos to illustrate what was going on when Nelson was first elected to the Senate nearly two decades ago.

But Scott’s camp had its throwback moment of sorts this week, with the release of a spot that accuses Nelson of having “voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare.”

It’s an abbreviated version of a charge hurled by former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV in his losing race against Nelson six years ago.

But it isn’t true, according to Politifact, which repeatedly debunked the accusation made by Mack and other Republicans following the passage of President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

Four times during a debate in 2012, Mack accused Nelson of voting to cut $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare.

Here’s an excerpt from Politifact’s ruling, back in the day:

Medicare spending increases under Obamacare, but over 10 years, it rises more slowly that it would without the law. The money comes from reducing payments to insurance companies and hospitals.

Part of the savings go to reduce prescription drug payments for Medicare recipients, as well as to provide free preventive care.

Overall, the lower spending extends the solvency of Medicare by eight years.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

“It’s absurd to be leveling a charge that was used by Connie Mack IV to attack Bill Nelson six years ago,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said Wednesday evening, pointing out that the allegation about voting to take money from Medicare was “repeatedly debunked” by Politifact.

The ad, entitled “Responsibility,” punches Nelson for a recent anti-Scott spot, launched by Majority Forward, that hits on Scott’s role in the Medicare fraud involving Columbia/HCA. The hospital company was fined $1.7 billion for Medicaid fraud, after Scott stepped down as CEO of the chain. Here’s Politifact breaking down the Scott/HCA allegations.

 

And here’s the ad, released by Majority Forward Tuesday,  that prompted the rebuttal:

Marijuana patient database hits 100,000 mark on 4/20 day. Coincidence?

purple bud.JPGAccording to Sigmund Freud, accidents don’t exist.

So how to explain the state’s medical marijuana patient database hitting the magical 100,000 mark on 4/20, better known as “weed day” among acolytes of the Grateful Dead, Phish and whoever else pot aficionados are listening to these days. (We could give you the soundtrack to our cloudy college days, but we’ll spare you.)

Whether it’s a coincidence or not, Florida patients may have as much to mourn as to celebrate.

The state’s pot czar, Christian Bax, and his troupe have yet to finalize rules regulating the state’s rapidly growing pot industry.

But, worse yet, major marijuana-related lawsuits — including one initiated by Amendment 2 big daddy John Morgan — have a long way to go before they’re settled.

Morgan’s suit, which features marijuana patient-icon Cathy Jordan as a plaintiff, challenges a state law passed last year that bans patients like Jordan from smoking cannabis. Vaping makes Jordan, who has ALS, gag, and her doctors have recommended smoking as the best route of administration.

Meanwhile, Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner — who revolutionized the “gentleman’s club” industry in Florida — won a victory from Tallahassee Judge Karen Gievers, who gave the 77-year-old lung cancer survivor permission to grow his own weed for juicing purposes.

Redner’s doc says that eight ounces of whole plant juice daily — which would take about three pounds of raw plant material, or about 40 plants in varying stages of growth — is the best way for his patient to keep his cancer in remission.

The state quickly appealed Gievers’s decision, and it’s unknown whether the appellate court will let him move forward while the case is under appeal.

The legal challenges are only a few of the issues facing the pot industry. Medical marijuana purveyors are having a hard time finding retail locales to ply their wares, and some in the industry are complaining there aren’t enough doctors to handling a quickly growing patient base.

But, hey, it’s 4/20 day, so, sit back, crank up whatever, and chill.

Talking heads on Florida school shooting

IMG_0075Response to last week’s massacre of 17 people at a Parkland high school last week dominated the Sunday morning news shows.

While speaking on New York City’s AM 970, Attorney General Pam Bondi urged individuals to report online threats and comments. The FBI admitted it failed to follow up on at least one report that 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz posed a danger.

“If all our kids are on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and if your child sees something, they have to take it seriously,” Bondi said. “I’d rather you call it in as a parent or as a child and be wrong 100 percent of the time than not call it in.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Miami, and Ted Deutch, a Democrat whose district includes Parkland, spoke of the need to address gun-safety laws while on ABC’s “This Week.”

“What we need is congressional leaders, specifically in my party, to allow some of these bills to come to the floor for debate,” Curbelo said.

Deutch said lawmakers need to listen to the students that survived the shooting, who have told him they want action.

“The difference this time is that these kids — you’ve spoken to them — the world has heard them, they’re just not going to sit back after what they experienced, after what they saw, the worst things imaginable, they’re not going to just sit back and take it,” Deutch said.

Outspoken survivors of the rampage at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School — the second worst school shooting in the nation’s history — have drawn international attention in their demands for lawmakers to do something about gun laws to prevent future tragedies like the one that took the lives of 14 of their classmates.

About 100 students are scheduled to take buses to Tallahassee Tuesday night, meet with state lawmakers on the following day and hold a rally on the steps of the Old Capitol at noon Wednesday.

“They’re going to stand up for their lives, that’s what this is about, and all of the excuses that are normally given about not getting things done and the difficulty of fighting outside groups and the gun lobby,” Deutch said. “None of that is as powerful as these students.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” David Hogg, a student at the Parkland high school, said he won’t feel safe returning to class, calling out Congress to make “reasonable change” to the nation’s gun laws.

“How many more students are going to have to die and have their blood spilt in American classrooms trying to make the world a better place just because politicians refuse to take action?” Hogg said.

Appearing on the same program as Hogg, Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie said he’d support the use of student records as part of background checks.

“Given what I’ve seen so far, I believe that we need a smarter system,” Runcie said. “We need a smarter infrastructure where various agencies, departments, school systems, they’re working in a more integrated, collaborative fashion to ensure that we can share data, we can share information to enhance our level of effectiveness.”

 Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the Parkland shooting, had been kicked out of school. The FBI has acknowledged a failure to follow protocols on a tip received about Cruz, while the Broward County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into numerous calls it had received the past few years about Cruz.

Gov. Rick Scott has demanded FBI Director Christopher Wray resign.

Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio host from Palm Beach, appeared on Fox News Sunday, where he called for the expansion of concealed-carry laws to allow people with permits to be armed in schools.

“If we are really serious about protecting the kids, we need a mechanism to be defensive when this kind of thing — if we’re not going to take action, we better have mechanisms in these schools to stop it when it breaks out,” Limbaugh said. “If we don’t do that, then all the rest of this is nothing more than political posturing for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 election.”

The state Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled Tuesday to hear a proposal (SB 1236) that would allow school principals or school superintendents designate people who could carry guns during school hours.

A separate measure (SB 1048), expected to go before the full state Senate on Wednesday, would alter the law that prohibits people with a concealed-carry permit from carrying at a religious facility on property that also includes a school. Currently, individuals with a permit are allowed to carry at churches and other religious institutions on property that doesn’t have accompanying education facilities.

By Jim Turner.

Plakon gets inked, for love & a purpose

27858061_10211168422390009_9209410574083576882_nState Rep. Scott Plakon, not exactly the guy who comes to mind when you think of body art, got a tattoo.

“Really. I’m not kidding. A real one,” the Longwood Republican wrote on his Facebook page, where he also posted photos of what looks like a painful process.

The inking was an “unusual gift” for his wife, Susie, who has Alzheimer’s Disease.

In the social media post, Plakon wrote that his “new life’s mission” is to heighten awareness to the reality of Alzheimer’s.

“What better way to make it permanent than to get a tattoo?” Plakon wrote.

The politician said he stopped at “Infamous Tattoos” in Leesburg on his way home from Tallahassee, where he personalized the purple ribbon signifying Alzheimer’s.

plakon ink

“Susie’s favorite flower is the daisy. For the last three years the name of our team at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s has been “Unforgettable Daisy” in honor of Susie. Sort of an unusual gift but Happy Valentines Day Susie Plakon!”

AG Sessions rolls out plan to “turn the tide” on opioid crisis

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is launching three initiatives designed to “turn the tide” on the opioid crisis gripping Florida and the nation.

Sessions is steering $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies “to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets,” according to a press release issued by the DOJ today. The release did not include details about the grants.

Sessions also announced “a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.” The field division, will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Sessions is also ordering all of the country’s U.S. Attorney offices to designate an “opioid coordinator” to “serve as a kind of quarterback” regarding anti-opioid efforts locally..

Here’s the full text of Sessions’ announcement:

Good morning, and thank you all for being here. I’d like to especially thank DEA Administrator Patterson for being here and for his leadership on this issue. DEA plays a vital role in our efforts here as you all know.

Today, we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  Based on preliminary data, at least 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.  That would be the highest drug overdose death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.  For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

This crisis is driven primarily by opioids – prescription pain medications, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

Fortunately, President Trump understands this and has a passion for this issue.  He has taken the rare step of declaring a public health emergency, and requested more than $1 billion in anti-opioid efforts in the President’s FY 2018 budget.

And I want to thank Kellyanne Conway for being here today. The President has made this a top priority for his administration—including every senior official and cabinet member—as her presence here today can attest.

The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, the President sent me an executive order to go after transnational criminal organizations—including the cartels who exploit the vulnerable and profit off of addiction.

I am convinced that our law enforcement efforts save lives—because they prevent new addictions from starting.  By enforcing our laws, we help keep illegal drugs out of our country, reduce their availability, drive up their price, and reduce their purity.

The Department of Justice has taken a number of steps this year to make these efforts more effective.

In this year’s two drug take-back days, we took more than 900 tons of unused prescription drugs off of our streets—before they could fall into the wrong hands.

In July, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history.  The Department coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to arrest and charge more than more than 120 defendants for opioid-related crimes.

In August I announced a new data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will help us find the tell-tale signs of opioid-related health care fraud.

I have also assigned experienced prosecutors in 12 opioid “hot-spots” across America to focus solely on prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  Armed with better data, these prosecutors have already begun to issue indictments.

Additionally, the Department has indicted two Chinese nationals for separate schemes to distribute massive quantities of fentanyl—the number one killer drug in America. The truth is clear. Most fentanyl enters the United States from China. I have raised it with a recent Chinese delegation, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has raised it, and President Trump was emphatic on the subject during his recent trip to China. We need more support.

Earlier this month, the DEA announced its intent to issue emergency restrictions on all forms of fentanyl—which will make it harder for criminals to circumvent our laws.

As deadly as fentanyl is, you can go online and order it through the mail.  That’s why in July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history.  This site hosted some 220,000 drug listings and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old in Utah.

These steps are important, and I believe that they have saved lives already.  But still, we need to do more.  And we will.

Today I am announcing three new initiatives to turn the tide.

First, the Department will continue to back the blue.  I am announcing more than $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies across America to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets.

Second, I am announcing a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.

The current Louisville district office will now be the 22nd DEA Field Division, with about 90 special agents and 130 task force officers.  This field division will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. These areas covered by this new division face similar drug threats, enabling this division to better focus on those threats.

They will be led by Special Agent in Charge Christopher Evans, who has served DEA for more than 25 years.

Third and finally, I am ordering all of our U.S. Attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator to serve as a kind of quarterback of our anti-opioid efforts in their community.

They will convene a task force of state, federal, and local law enforcement and help determine which cases to take federal.  And they will help customize and evaluate the effectiveness of every U.S. Attorney’s Office’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, a strategy based on local conditions on the ground.

I believe that these changes will make law enforcement more effective—and make the American people safer.

But our work is not finished.  We will not slow down for one day or even for one instant.  With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, enforcing our drug laws is more important than ever.

We will not cede one city, one neighborhood, or one street corner to gangs, violence, or drugs.

We need to use every lawful tool we have—and we will.  This Department will continue to take whatever steps we deem appropriate and effective toward our goal of turning the tide.

I know that this crisis is daunting- the death rates are stunning- and it can be discouraging.  But we will turn the tide. When the men and women of law enforcement work effectively in a focused way, we can stop the growth of destructive addiction, keep the American people safe, and save lives.  Thank you. Now I’ll turn it over to Rob to discuss DEA recent efforts in more detail.