9 Investigates threats to pill mill database



ORLANDO, Fla. - Jacob Ulrich became addicted to oxycodone after he hurt his back.

"It was super easy," Ulrich told WFTV's Vanessa Welch. "Not only did they give me oxycodone, they gave me Xanax and I didn't even ask for it."

Ulrich found himself caught up in Florida's once thriving pill mill industry.

Doctors wrote him prescriptions for more than 200 pills at a time, and he was taking 35 pills a day.

"I was going to about 15 to 17 doctors," Ulrich told WFTV. "It was a full-time job."

But that all ended last year when Florida began operating its pill mill database, which requires pharmacists to enter the names of those buying powerful painkillers.

Now, however, funding for the database is at risk.

The database tracks excessive prescriptions, prevents doctor-shopping and leads law enforcement to pill pushers. Soon, oxycodone became more expensive and more difficult to get.

"If it weren't for the database, there is no question: I would still be out there addicted, probably overdosed or in jail," Ulrich said.

But the state only has enough money to keep the database going for another seven months.

"We have to come up with the money somehow," said Orlando pharmacist Dele Obaitan.

Obaitan said the database alerts him to doctor-shoppers daily. If he discovers a patient recently received pain pills and lacks a good reason for needing more, he won't fill the prescription.

"It's a tool that works," the pharmacist said.

In the last year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's pill mill strike force arrested 3,300 pill pushers, and it shut down 254 pill mills across the state.

Meanwhile, oxycodone-related deaths dropped by nearly 18 percent.

"No longer is the state of Florida a place for other people in the nation to come and buy drugs," said Danny Banks with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The database costs about $500,000 a year to maintain, and private donations and federal grants that fund it are drying up.

"We are going to continue to look at ways to fund the database to keep it going, even if it means other agencies contributing toward it," Banks said. "We are going to look at those as potential options."

Banks added, "At the end of the day, the highest priority is to keep up this fight and to keep the things that we have been doing for the last two years to keep them going."

Ulrich has been sober now for 90 days at the fresh start ministry recovery center. He now mentors new patients, and he said they're praying the state comes up with a permanent funding source to keep the pill mill database going.

"If we were to lose this database, it would be like the wild, wild west," Ulrich said. "Without it, you can go to as many doctors as you want to see."