The silent killer

I just spent a week in Florida doing research on prescription drug addiction. I’m not kidding when I say it’s like Armageddon for pills here. Of course, I knew all the stats – that Florida’s doctors prescribe 85% of the nation’s oxycodone, that 7 people a day die here due to pill overdoses, etc. – but seeing the fallout with my own eyes was still a shock.

Everyone’s talking about the new rules Florida recently put into place to crack down on pill mills, as well as the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, which is finally set to become active after years of legislative delay. But while all agree these are good measures, I got mixed responses as to how helpful they’ll really be. They come late to the scene. A generation of painkiller addicts has already been created. What’s going to happen when their pill supply dries up? Some say they’ll seek treatment. Some say they’ll get their pills in Georgia, where new pill mills are a fast-growing cottage industry. Some say they’ll go the route of Massachusetts, and turn to heroin.

One thing is clear: prescription drugs continue to decimate people’s lives here. The narcotics cops in Pinellas County call it the Silent Killer, or simply, “the Blob.” As fast as they can shut down one pain clinic, another pops up. For every dirty doctor, slimy pharmacist, and street dealer they jail, three more sell pills right up the street. Every day someone overdoses. There is no end in sight. Anyone who thinks prescription drug abuse is a thing of the past is out of their mind.

I think one of the saddest things I saw was the pain in one father’s eyes as he told me about his Oxy-addicted son, who is currently in jail. His son was born 6 weeks premature, and as the dad held him in his hands right after the birth, he felt the little boy trembling and grasping for air, the sheer fragility of life. He thought to himself, “my kid isn’t going to make it.” Twenty years later, he held his son as his body was ravaged by the withdrawal effects of Oxy, on the edge of life and death in the same way. Shaking, defecating, gagging on his own vomit. Again, he thought, “my kid isn’t going to make it.”

The killer didn’t take his son that day, but he worries that someday it will.

About Erin Marie Daly

I’m a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. My book on prescription drug and heroin addiction was published in August 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
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