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State officials create prescription drug abuse task force

 TALLAHASSEE, Fla. --
State officials on Friday announced the creation of a prescription drug fraud task force, which will meet monthly and monitor attempts to curb the rapidly growing problem.

The full task force has not been selected.

Among those named to the panel so far are Attorney General Charlie Crist, Florida Health Secretary Dr. John Agwunobi, state drug czar Jim McDonough, Health Care Secretary Rhonda Medows and Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Guy Tunnell, the Orlando Sentinel reported for its Saturday editions.

The task force's first meeting was Friday.

"Lives are being lost," Crist told the newspaper. "We have to do what we can to make sure this new era of drug dealing discontinues."

The panel will be charged with finding ways to stem Medicaid fraud, black market prescription drug sales, and the practice of "doctor shopping" for painkillers. Doctor shopping refers to looking for a doctor willing to prescribe drugs illegally, or getting prescriptions for a single drug from more than one doctor at once.

State officials have said that as many as five Floridians die daily from prescription drug abuse.

"Everyone is in total agreement that this is a critical situation that has to be addressed immediately," said state Sen. Burt Saunders, a Naples Republican who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Medicaid Prescription Drug Over-Prescribing.

A top priority for the new panel will be encouraging lawmakers to create a new prescription-tracking database, financed partly by Purdue Pharma L.P., the Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin, a powerful, narcotic pain reliever.

Purdue Pharma has pledged $2 million toward software for the program, which has been rejected twice by the state Legislature. The company's offer expires in July. The pledge was made in November 2002 when the state dropped an investigation into how the company marketed its popular painkiller.

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