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Report details Fla. drug-related deaths

By Staff | Jul 1, 2009

Prescription drug abuse continues to pose a growing threat to Southwest Floridians, according to a report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission that tracks causes of death throughout the state.
Medical examiners compiled information from autopsies in 2008 and recorded when drugs were present in a body.
For a death to be considered “drug-related” there needed to be at least one identified substance, but in a majority of cases there was more than one drug found.
The Office of Vital Statistics reported 171,800 deaths last year in Florida and 8,556 were labeled drug-related. In approximately 60 percent of the cases the deaths were labeled “accidental” instead of “homicide,” “suicide” or “undetermined.”
Drugs causing the most deaths last year were: Oxycodone, 941 cases; benzodiazepines or sedative-hypnotic drugs such as Valium or Xanax, 929 cases; Methadone, 693 cases; cocaine, 648 cases; ethyl alcohol, 489 cases; morphine, 300 cases; and Hydrocodone, 270 cases.
Four of the drugs — Oxycodone, Methadone, morphine and Hydrocodone — are narcotic analgesics or painkillers.
Prescription drugs were identified in 75 percent of the deaths in the report.
Researchers are finding that prescription drugs are contributing to more deaths than illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. Alcohol, one of the most frequently identified substances, was found in nearly half, or 4,070, of the deaths and may have contributed to the cause of death when mixed with other substances.
Heroin continues to be the most lethal drug in the report. Deaths associated with the drug increased by 28 percent since 2007. The report stated that seven people with heroin in their system died in Fort Myers last year. Cocaine caused 20 deaths in Fort Myers.
“What we saw is the most lethal are heroin, methadone and Oxycodone,” said Kristen Perezluha, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the agency that released the report Tuesday. “This is consistent with what we saw the previous year.”
State officials have been formulating pieces of legislation to deal with the burgeoning phenomenon of prescription drug abuse.
Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill June 23 mandating doctors across the state to record patient prescriptions in a database in order to prevent drugs from falling into the hands of those bent on abusing.
The database will be used by health care workers or law enforcement officers to determine if an addict is shopping around for a doctor to get a prescription.
“The 2008 report reflects the threat and danger of prescription drug abuse,” said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, in a prepared statement. “Florida law enforcement is working aggressively to intercept those who traffic in prescription narcotics.”
Abusing prescription or over-the-counter drugs is increasing among teens and young adults. According to The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the nation’s largest drug abuse report, rates of cocaine and methadone use were down for teens, but prescription drug rates increased by 12 percent.
Drug experts point out that it is easier for teens to obtain prescription drugs, and that most teens believe they are safer using those types of drugs rather than illegal drugs like cocaine or methadone.