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Prescription pill deaths decrease, but continue to kill more than any other drug in Florida

Posted: May 29, 2014 - 7:28pm

Deaths due to prescription drug abuse — long a problem in Florida — continued to drop in the first six months of 2013, a situation Attorney General Pam Bondi highlighted Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel during a national conference about black-on-black crime.

In Jacksonville, prescription painkillers and cocaine continue to cause the most drug-related deaths, along with alcohol.

Prescription drug use is down, statewide figures show, with prescription drugs found in about 2,400 deaths. Prescription drugs caused 975 of those deaths, down from 1,054 the year before.

“To see these tremendous strides,” Bondi said, “we did not expect to see that. We know we have a long way to go, but we’re very pleased with the dramatic drop in deaths.”

Still Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford and the area’s chief medical examiner said they daily see the toll prescription drugs takes on addicts.

The violent crime seen around Jacksonville, Rutherford said, is mostly related to drug use. “It’s still a problem,” he said. “To go after the drug trade you have to have high-level intensive investigations and low-level intensive investigations.”

He said he thinks the drugs are coming from a small number of suppliers who distribute through many dealers. The Sheriff’s Office, he said, must balance between focusing on the suppliers and the street-level dealers.

He said the city needs to give him more police officers if the city wants drug use and crime to drop further.

While other drugs like Xanax and Valium occurred in the same amount of deaths or more, deaths with oxycodone, a prescription painkiller, dropped by 16 percent. That means 541 people died with oxycodone in their bodies from January to June in 2013, compared to 651 from July to December in 2012.

The Medical Examiners Commission report said that “prescription drugs account for 78 percent of all drug occurrences … when ethyl alcohol is excluded.”

So-called “pill mills” were a major problem throughout Florida, including in Jacksonville. About 60 registered pain clinics handed out prescriptions in Jacksonville in 2010.

Law enforcement described those pain clinics as unscrupulous operations where patients were given high-dose painkiller prescriptions, even if they didn’t need it.

The state created a database of who writes and fills painkiller prescriptions, which Bondi said Thursday has been an essential tool in combatting pill mills.

Valerie Rao, the chief medical examiner for Jacksonville and neighboring counties, said she still sees drug overdose deaths daily, and rarely does anyone die with only one drug in his or her system.

Statewide, 93.5 percent of all drug deaths contained more than one drug.

In Jacksonville, Rao said, cocaine and other illicit drugs are usually mixed with prescription painkillers.

Oxycodone was the only drug present in one death from January to June of last year, but 47 deaths included a mix of oxycodone and other drugs.

Cocaine was present in 68 deaths in the first half of 2013, but 60 of those cases involved the drug with something else.

“It’s not gone anywhere,” she said about cocaine. “It’s still here.”

The bodies she examines, she said, show that the brain and the lungs swelled from the drug use.

“The prescription drugs are just such a problem,” Rao said. “I wish we could control it, but I don’t know.”

Andrew Pantazi: (904) 359-4310

Comments (2)

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avatar 05/30/14 - 07:34 am
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JohnC: So, I guess the answer

JohnC: So, I guess the answer is to limit the amount of prescription drugs produced? If so, I totally disagree.

Recently my wife had major spine surgery. She was given a prescription for hydrocodone. I had to go to several pharmacies before I found one that had any. Publix (our usual pharmacy) was all out; they told me that they get an alotment each month and when that runs out they are out until the next month.

Imposing manufacturing limits is not a good solution.

johnctaughtme
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johnctaughtme 05/29/14 - 09:55 pm
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And not a chance that those

And not a chance that those companies who manufacture those prescription drugs know that they are making and selling far more of them than are needed or legitimately prescribed, is there?

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