TALLAHASSEE — Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler has been tapped as a regional co-chair of a statewide drug task force designed to combat pill mills and the increasing problem of prescription drug trafficking in Florida.
Prescription drug abuse has become a problem of “epidemic proportions” in the state, Weschler said.
“Florida is where everyone seems to come and get their drugs,” he said.
Florida is home to 98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing oxycodone in the country, concentrated in the Tampa, Miami and Orlando regions, according to Gov. Rick Scott’s office. More oxycodone is dispensed in Florida than in all other states combined.
Weschler said he believes much of the rise of prescription drug trafficking in Florida is due to the state’s lack of a computer database tracking prescription drug distribution. However, Scott has vowed to kill a proposed database, saying he believes it is an invasion of patients’ privacy.
Instead, in late March, Scott announced the creation of a statewide drug task force, which is designed to provide intelligence, analytical and investigative support to local law enforcement agencies. The task force will be paid for with $800,000 in unused grant funds.
The statewide task force is comprised of seven regional task forces working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They’ll be utilizing existing law enforcement resources within the regions to combat drug trafficking.
“Everybody is throwing something into the pot to assist with this problem,” said Keith Kameg, spokesman for the FDLE.
Southwest Florida’s task force is comprised of law enforcement agencies in 10 counties: Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee.
Weschler said Southwest Florida’s regional task force will used a multi-pronged approach to target doctors, dealers and users who abuse prescription drugs.
Weschler said he recently received a call from the Florida Police Chiefs Association asking if he would be interested in being a part of the task force. He quickly agreed.
“It’s well worth my time,” Weschler said. “It’s a small part to play because (prescription drug abuse has) got to be stopped.”
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is the other co-chairman of Southwest Florida’s task force.