In Fla., Oxy deaths decline, but heroin deaths hold steady

palm tree cemetaryIn a sign that some of the measures Florida has taken to combat its prescription drug addiction problem are working, state authorities are reporting that the number of oxycodone-related deaths plunged during the first half of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011. From January 2012 to June 2012, there were 759 oxycodone-related deaths, down from 1,058 during the same period in 2011, according to this article.

In that time period, there were 42 oxycodone-related deaths in Orange and Osceola counties — fewer than half the number of those deaths during the same period of the previous year — while heroin-related deaths remained the same, the article says. Meanwhile, in Seminole County, the number of oxycodone-related deaths during the 2011 and 2012 periods remained the same, 19, and there were increases in deaths associated with cocaine, methadone and morphine, according to the article.

While these numbers are encouraging, the Miami Herald recently called into question how effective the state’s crackdown on pills has really been. Although many of Florida’s so-called “pill mills” seem to have shifted to the more permissive regulatory environment in nearby Georgia, some operators have switched to weight-loss or anti-aging clinics, where they continue to sell profitable pharmaceuticals right on the premises, the article noted.

Florida’s much-anticipated prescription drug monitoring database had been touted as a great triumph in the state’s fight. But a recent investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that the vast majority of medical practitioners don’t even use the system, because they are not required by law to check it to see where and when their patients filled previous prescriptions, the type and quantity of drugs they got and who prescribed them.

Since the system was launched last September, more than 48 million prescriptions have been written in Florida for controlled substances — about 2.5 for every man, woman and child in the state — but prescribers checked the database before writing just 2% of them, the article says.

Meanwhile, TCPalm recently reported that Florida’s crackdown on painkiller abuse has had an unintended effect: some patients with documented cases of chronic pain say they are being turned away from pharmacies because of the medication they are seeking, according to this article.

The state also continues to grapple with the fallout of prescription drug addiction in its hospital delivery rooms, with a dramatic spike in children born dependant on opioids, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, this article says.

In Florida, the death rate from oxycodone increased 265% from 2003 to 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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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