Florida’s Epidemic with Prescription Drug Overdoses

In most states, a “fatal drug overdose” implies the abuse of heroin, crack or other illegal substances. But in Florida, there is one, readily available source of overdoses that kills more users than alcohol, cocaine, and heroin combined: Prescription drugs.

The Rise of Pharmaceutical Drugs in Florida

According to a recently released report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), legal medications killed nearly 1,270 people in Florida during the first half of this year, up from 1,157 in the same period in 2009. Among the most widely-abused pharmaceutical drugs are the painkillers oxycodone, roxycontin, and hydrocodone, especially when taken in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

Oxycodone alone claimed 63 more lives in the first six months of 2010 than in the last six months of 2009. FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey put the situation this way: “It is no longer just illegal narcotics like cocaine and heroin being bought and sold on our streets. Drug dealers have made legal narcotics a top-shelf product.”

The trend lines in Florida are rising. From January to June, about 89,800 people died, and of these, 2,580 had one or more prescription drugs in their bodies. This represents an 11 percent increase in oxycodone abuse and 4 percent in hydrocodone abuse.

Users Come from all Walks of Life

Many of the deaths occur among recreational users, but amid the current recession, drug use has also escalated among people made desperate by the loss of jobs, homes and families. Also, some are unaware that the misuse of a prescription drug is a crime, or is even addictive, because the drug is sold in stores.

The addiction usually starts with an innocent automobile accident or a slip-and-fall. The primary care physician usually prescribes a standard dosage of prescription pain medication for the injury. However, because of highly addictive nature of the prescription drugs, the users continue to obtain and abuse.

The penalties in drug-related court cases, however, compare with those for abuse of methamphetamines or other illicit substances, ranging from rehabilitation programs to long-term mandatory jail sentences.

Pill Mills Make it Easy

Although the drug crisis resembles the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, prescription drug trafficking is much different than “slinging on the corner.” Much of the illegal sale of pharmaceutical drugs goes on in phony pain-management clinics, called “pill mills” by law-enforcement authorities, where physicians overly prescribe these medications.

Orange County, which leads the state in pill mills, is drafting an ordinance that could limit the number of these outlets and their hours of operation.

Doctor Shopping

We have all seen the news articles related to robberies at pharmacies to obtain the pain pills. Law enforcement is now attempting to regulate the pharmaceutical-drug problem with a doctor-shopping statute. In an effort to limit the number of doctors a patient can see to obtain pharmaceutical drugs, law enforcement is using Florida Statute 893.13(7)(a)8.

This statute targets those patients who withhold information from a practitioner from whom the person seeks to obtain a controlled substance. Specifically, the person making the request cannot receive a controlled substance or prescription of similar use from another practitioner within 30 days.

The doctors are now attempting to protect themselves by having patients complete a basic document to confirm that the have not seen another practitioner or obtained a similar script within the past 30 days. A violation of the doctor-shopping statute in the State of Florida is a third-degree felony, with punishment comparable to other drug crimes.

When you Face Drug Charges in Florida

Drug charges can be damaging on many different levels. If you have been arrested on a drug-related charge, a skilled Orlando criminal defense lawyer can assess the strength of the prosecution’s case and help you develop a strategy to achieve the best possible outcome.