More People in Florida Dying from Prescription Drugs than Illicit Ones

In Florida, a statewide report on drug-related deaths shows that the number of fatalities from prescription drugs continues to surpass those caused by illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

The narcotic painkiller OxyContin (and other products containing oxycodone) and methadone (a drug used to treat heroin addicts) caused the most drug-related deaths in Florida during the first half of the year, according to a report by the state Medical Examiners Commission.

Willoughby Mariano of the Orlando Sentinel writes that in the Orlando area alone, oxycodone caused 23 deaths, while methadone caused 15.

“There’s not a week goes by that we don’t investigate one of these cases,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who until recently was part of the commission that released the report.

Of the roughly 88,500 deaths statewide January through June 2009, just under 4,200 were drug related, the report states.

Together, oxycodone, benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium, and methadone caused 1,333 deaths from Jan. 1 to June 30—far more than cocaine, with 236 deaths, and heroin, with 53.

Deaths from legal prescription drugs have risen during the past decade, but prescription drug deaths only surpassed cocaine and heroin deaths as of last year.

Florida is known as the nation’s capital for “pill mills,” medical practices that prescribe painkillers in large numbers, with little regard as to whether patients actually need them for treatment. These drugs are sold locally and out of state.

“Doctors are just handing it out like candy on Halloween. And that’s a problem,” Judd said.

This summer, Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a measure would require Florida pharmacists and peddlers of addictive drugs to report their sales to a statewide database within 15 days.

This would allow doctors and pharmacists find out whether drug dealers or narcotics abusers were “doctor shopping,” or getting a high number pills from multiple sources.

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