Crackdown on illegal pills showing results, experts say
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 5:37 p.m.
A crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs in Florida may be paying off.
The latest data for the state and for North Central Florida shows that deaths involving hydrocodone and some other abused drugs are dropping.
The abuse of prescription drugs has been identified by police and health authorities as the top drug problem in recent years, so the news of declines was welcome.
“It’s a beautiful report,” said Bruce Goldberger, director of forensic toxicology at University of Florida PathLabs.
“The bright spot is that the interdiction and other measures that were put into place have been effective. That was our argument from Day One — get these measures in place so that we can halt the epidemic of drug-related deaths.”
Painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone go by trade names such as OxyContin, Percocet and Lortab. Also tracked by the state are the anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam and diazepam — with trade names of Xanax and Valium — and illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
Florida had become known as the “pill mill” capital of the U.S. because of the large number of pain clinics — particularly in South Florida — at which patients could easily get prescriptions.
To stem the flow, Florida in the last two years began monitoring prescriptions and enacted new regulations on pain clinics.
The data covers a period from January to June in 2012 and compares it to the same period for 2011.
Statewide, drugs were present or the cause of death in 4,126 people, a drop of 203 over the interim 2011 report. Despite the decrease in prescription drug deaths, they continue to be found more often than illicit drugs in deaths, according to an FDLE press release.
Deaths involving methadone and hydrocodone decreased 18.3 percent and 16.4 percent. Deaths caused by cocaine decreased by 11.6 percent.
Data for the 8th District medical examiner’s office — which covers Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties — shows a drop in the presence of some drugs but increases in others.
Hydrocodone was present in eight deaths in 2012 compared to 11 in 2011. It was the cause of death in two of those cases, down from seven in 2011.
Deaths in which Alprazolam was present dropped to 13 in 2012 from 21 in 2011, and the drug was the cause of death in nine cases in 2012 compared to 17 in 2011.
Also down in 2012 were deaths involving cocaine and methadone.
However, the number of deaths involving diazepam and oxycodone were up.
Oxycodone was present in 20 deaths in 2012 compared to 11 in 2011 and was the cause of death in 12 cases compared to six in 2012.
Diazepam was present in 12 deaths in 2012 deaths and the cause of death in four cases. In 2011 it was present in six deaths and the cause in four of them.
Goldberger said, overall, the report is positive.
“The way I look at it is, we are now saving lives by putting into place measures such as the monitoring program and an aggressive attack toward the pill mills,” Goldberger said. “Through these efforts the state has indirectly affected the number of deaths from prescription drugs.”
Gainesville Police Lt. Matt Nechodom, head of GPD’s special operations unit, said the state programs have reduced the amount of prescription drugs available on the street.
Prior to prescription monitoring, Nechodom said, illegal sale of the drugs was rampant.
“We have seen a noticeable decrease in the availability,” Nechodom said. “Oxy is pretty much the No. 1 drug of choice being sold illegally. There is still a market out there and because (people) are now unable to doctor shop, it has reduced the availability of it.”
However, the street value of the drug has increased by about 30 percent because of the shortage, Nechodom added. The street price is generally based on the size of the pill.
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