Schumer Calls For Shutdown Of "Flamingo Express"

February 21, 2011 Updated Feb 21, 2011 at 9:20 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schumer Calls For Shutdown Of "Flamingo Express"

February 21, 2011 Updated Feb 21, 2011 at 9:20 AM EDT

( release ) U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on Florida Governor Rick Scott to preserve and implement Florida’s prescription drug surveillance program in the face of a New York and nationwide epidemic of illegal prescription narcotics being trafficked out of South Florida through the so-called ‘Flamingo Express.’ Florida’s program, which was to be implemented this summer after years of federal and state planning, would deter and prevent much of the illegal distribution and abuse of prescription drugs by allowing physicians to review a listing of their recent prescriptions for controlled substances when individuals attempt to “doctor-shop”. Schumer was joined by joined by Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York, Bridget Brennan, who noted that prosecutions for illegal prescription drugs in New York City have increased by 150% over the last 3 years.

“New York’s prescription drug problem is only getting worse, and if the Governor of Florida goes ahead with his plan to eliminate their planned prescription drug monitoring program, it will only get worse here in New York, and across the country” said Schumer. “The reason law enforcement officials refer to South Florida prescription drug trafficking as the ‘Flamingo Express’ is because it’s the number one exporter of prescription narcotics that flood our streets. By clamping down on a major hub of drugs trafficking in Florida, we can stop these drugs at their source.”

Similar programs to the one that was scheduled to be implemented in Florida have been operational in 34 other states and seven additional states have enacted legislation to put them in place. The State of Florida, which is the single largest hub for trafficking in illegally obtained prescription narcotics in the United States, has received grants and donations of $1.2 million for the creation of the system, and $500,000 in yearly maintenance costs, making the program budget neutral. In a letter Schumer sent to Governor Rick Scott on Sunday, and joined by Senators Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, Sheldon Whitehouse, he called Florida’s decision to eliminate Florida’s so-to-be implemented drug monitoring program reckless and pointed out the dangerous consequences to New York and the country, as illegal prescription drugs continue to pour out of Florida at an increasingly alarming rate.

Schumer pointed to recent congressional testimony by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which identified an uptick in the illegal trafficking of prescription drugs from states lacking strong drug monitoring programs, like Florida, to other states throughout the region and country. Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) labeled a tri-county area of South Florida (Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade) as the most significant major hub of illegal prescription drug trafficking in the country, with news reports dubbing illegal prescription drug traffic in Florida as the “Oxy Express” and “Flamingo Express.” Reports have suggested that up to 85% of all oxycodone distributed nationally came from South Florida.

New York, like states all across the country, is witnessing a rapidly worsening prescription drug problem that will only get worse if Florida does not implement its new prescription drug surveillance plan. The New York Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE) confirms that New York, like many states, is directly affected by prescription drug trafficking coming out of Florida. In fact, law enforcement agencies from states such as Kentucky and Tennessee have also reported to BNE officials that New York license plates are often found on cars parked outside of known Florida “pill mills.”

The New York Special Prosecutor for Narcotics noted that over the last three years, New York City has seen a threefold increase in the number of prescription drug prosecutions. In 2007, 5% of prosecutions out of their office were related to prescription drugs – in 2010, that figure had jumped to 20%.

According to the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, prescription drug arrests from the Nassau County Police Department’s Narcotics and Vice Bureau increased by over 300% between 2008-2009, from 168 arrests to 673. Additionally, the county has seen deaths as a result of the toxic effects of prescription narcotics increase by 264% between 2005-2009. In one high profile case in April 2010, a young man from Punta Gorda, Florida, was arrested with approximately 3,225 Oxycotin pills and 876 Xanax pill as he attempted to drop them off in Mineola for distribution and sale.

Studies show that prescription drug abuse is a growing, and serious problem in cities and states throughout America. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), seven million Americans reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs in 2009. In fact, more Americans abuse prescription drugs than inhalants, hallucinogens, cocaine, and heroin combined. A staggering one out of every ten high schools seniors reported abusing prescription drugs by 2007. An additional study sponsored by the Department of Justice (DOJ) showed that prescription drug monitoring programs successfully reduce both the availability of illegal prescription drugs and the probability of prescription drug abuse. In total, forty-two states have authorized drug monitoring programs, and thirty-four are operational.

Schumer noted that if Florida refuses to act, he will consider legislation that would make prescription drug monitoring mandatory to root out pill mills, doctor shopping, and the proliferation of these deadly narcotics on our streets.

A copy of the letter to Governor Scott can be found below.

February 20, 2011

Office of Governor Rick Scott

State of Florida

The Capitol

400 S. Monroe St.

Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Dear Governor Scott:

We write today with grave concerns regarding the elimination of Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program in your recently released budget. Such a policy not only leaves Florida exposed to criminal elements in the business of trafficking controlled substances, but also has serious ramifications for the rest of the country battling abuse of prescription drugs. We urge you to reconsider your efforts to eliminate this important program.

As you may know, seven million Americans reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs in 2009 according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That is more than the number of Americans abusing inhalants, hallucinogens, cocaine, and heroin combined, and ranks second only to cannabis in abuse among illicit drug users. Even more troubling, by 2007 one out of every ten high school seniors was abusing prescription drugs, and prescription drugs were causing more drug overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.

Recent congressional testimony by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) identifies a trend of criminal organizations establishing a thriving business of transporting individuals to and from States lacking strong prescription drug monitoring programs and regulations. Indeed, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has identified three major hubs for this traffic, the most significant of which originates in the tri-county area of South Florida (Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties). News reports have dubbed traffic out of Florida as the “Oxy Express,” and the “Flamingo Express.” Florida is the only major hub without an operational prescription drug monitoring program.

There are significant federal resources being dedicated to this major problem. This comes in the form of DEA working with other federal, state, and local agencies to crack down on rogue pain clinics through its Tactical Diversion Squads, as well as through the ONDCP operated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program. Additionally, there are two federal funding programs which were created to assist states like Florida in the implementation and enhancement of prescription drug monitoring programs: the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and SAMHSA’s National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act (NASPER) Program.

A study sponsored by the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicated that prescription drug monitoring programs successfully reduce the amount of prescription pain relievers and stimulants available for diversion and probability of abuse. Forty-two states have authorized drug monitoring programs, and thirty-four are operational. These programs are critical in our collective combat against the abuse of these controlled substances. We respectfully ask you to reconsider the elimination of Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program.

Thank you for your prompt and careful consideration of this matter.