Deaths involving prescription drugs up locally

Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 8:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 8:44 p.m.

An increase in the number of deaths involving prescription drugs in 2012 in the Alachua County area ran counter to a statewide trend of fewer deaths credited to a crackdown on pill mills about two years ago.

Deaths in 2012 in which prescriptions were present were up 47.6 percent from 2011 in the Eighth District Medical Examiner’s Office covering Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.

The numbers dropped 9.9 percent statewide, according to data released Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the number of Eighth District accidental deaths caused by prescription drugs increased 95 percent -- from 20 cases in 2011 to 39 in 2012 -- but declined 20 percent statewide.

The Eighth District increases not only buck the state trend but also what police are seeing on the streets.

Gainesville Police Lt. Matt Nechodom, who investigates drug cases, said prescription narcotics are not as plentiful as they once were.

“We are in no short supply of finding cases for oxy and the others, but it’s nothing near like it was prior to the implementation of the prescription monitoring program,” Nechodom said. “We saw a drastic reduction once that went into place, but it’s still relatively available.”

The data was released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

For years, the number of cases involving prescription painkillers was rising because of their easy availability from pain clinics, particularly in South Florida where pills were sold on-site.

Now, however, the state has tighter regulations that include monitoring the prescriptions that are doled out.

Bruce Goldberger -- director the forensic medicine division and the University of Florida’s Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine -- credits the regulations with the positive statewide results.

The downside, Goldberger said Tuesday, is that heroin deaths rose as some painkiller users turned to heroin instead. Heroin-related deaths statewide rose from 62 in 2011 to 117 in 2012.

“That’s a very remarkable and significant increase. I do believe the increase is due in part to the decrease in the availability of opioid prescription drugs,” Goldberger said. “In concert with the increase in heroin, we see dramatic decreases in one of the leading prescription drugs -- oxycodone is down 33 percent.”

Oxycodone was found in 42 deaths in the Eighth District in 2012 and 24 in 2011. Hydrocodone deaths went from 16 in 2011 to 22 in 2012.

The Eighth District had two heroin-related deaths in 2012 and none in 2011. Morphine deaths rose from 22 in 2011 to 43 in 2012. Deaths with methadone totaled 26 in 2012 and 22 in 2011

Deaths in which anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and Valium were present also increased in 2012 in the Eighth District.

Cocaine, meanwhile, was present in 30 deaths in 2012, a drop from 34 in 2011.

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