Although we’re one big, cohesive country under the same government, several different regions make up the United States: there’s the northeast, the south, the Midwest, and the west coast. And for each region, there is a different dialect, slang, traditions, style signature foods, and even drug of choice. In Florida, the main drug of abuse is the narcotic painkiller: oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), roxycodone (Roxy), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) – to name a few. These are all part of the opiate family, the same drug family that includes heroin.
Florida’s Painkiller Epidemic
According to a national report, Florida has the 11th highest drug overdose death rate in the country. And the rate has more than doubled since 1999.
That year, the number of drug overdose deaths – most of which were from prescription drugs – was 6.4 deaths per 100,000 Florida residents. Today that number is 16.4 deaths per 100,000, according to the Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic report, by Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the nation’s health.
So, why Florida?
For years, Florida’s relaxed regulations on prescription drugs turned the state into a black market for synthetic opioids, which caused 16,625 deaths and 420,000 emergency department visits in 2010. The Sunshine State was home to 90 of the country’s 100 top pharmacies buying oxycodone in 2010, which often made their way into the hands of prescription drug dealers.
Calling prescription drug abuse a top public health concern, the report said that misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers alone costs the country an estimated $53.4 billion a year in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice costs.
In the News: Florida’s Pill Mills
A few short years ago, everything seemingly came to a head with mass raids on pain management clinics that were dubbed “pill mills” for their factory-like process of churning out painkiller prescriptions at an astonishing rate.
It took more than two years, but federal agents shut down the $40 million businesses that operated in Broward and Palm Beach counties until the March 2010 raids. DEA agents used several tactics – phone taps, posing as patients – which led to enough evidence to amass more than 1.2 million pages of records and statements used in the prosecution of suspects.
The evidence persuaded 28 co-defendants – the owners, staff and most of the doctors who wrote prescriptions – to plead guilty and go to prison.
Two doctors, however, chose to take their cases to trial and are facing other charges related to what federal prosecutors say was a conspiracy to sell as many pain pills as possible to addicts and street drug dealers, who sold them at a profit in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
And major pharmacies were in on it, too.
In June, Walgreen Co., the nation’s largest pharmacy operator, paid the Drug Enforcement Agency an $80 million settlement to resolves charges that it failed to control its sales of narcotic painkillers. As a result of its efforts, the amount of oxycodone sold in the state of Florida decreased by 97% from 2009 to 2010. Deaths related to oxycodone decreased by more than 17%, and the number of “doctor shoppers” has decreased by 58% since authorities began cracking down on pill mills in 2011. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.