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Prescription Drug Overdose Deaths Skyrocket in Florida - Experts Blame Storefront Pain Clinics

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posted 03:15 PM EST, Fri July 03, 2009

Opiate pain medications caused 33% more overdose fatalities in 2008 than in 2007 – Experts point to Florida laws that allow for the easy prescribing of these potent medications. The top 25 oxycodone prescribing doctors in America are all Floridians.

Florida doctors write more prescriptions for OxyContin and other potent narcotic pain medications than doctors anywhere else in the country, by far; and so it's not surprising that fatal overdose deaths within the state have risen substantially.

In 2008, almost 1000 Floridians died from the misuse of oxycodone (the medication in OxyContin), which is a 33% increase over 2007 and a huge jump from the 340 deaths in 2005.

Deaths from cocaine overdoses are down in the state (down 23% from 2007) due to a shift away from the consumption of illegal drugs; Pinellas County’s medical examiner, Dr. Jon Thogmartin claims that 'Prescription drugs have really begun, to a significant degree, to replace illicit drugs.'

Alcohol aside, marijuana remains the most widely abused substance, followed now by prescription medications.

Florida has a black reputation in surrounding states for legislations that allow doctors to operate 'cash only' pain clinics, which some experts consider to be little more than licensed drug dealing operations.  Some of these pain clinics advertise to potential clients that opiate medications are available to anyone who brings proof of their pain (a verbal complaint of pain can be enough), and enough money to pay. Broward County questionably boasts almost 100 storefront pain clinics.

Experts say that Florida is a doctor shopper's paradise, with multiple locations in urban areas ready to prescribe potent narcotics. Broward County Medical Examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper, admits that at the moment, it's virtually impossible for legitimate doctors to know how many pills someone may be taking, saying that, 'A person can get hundreds or thousands of pills.' Problematically, says Dr. Perper, a lack of medical oversight leads to people consuming dangerous combinations of medications, often mixing opiates with anti anxiety drugs such as Xanax.

The State Government has passed legislation to implement a prescription drug monitoring program, (38 states already have a similar program). The program is designed to provide information to doctors and pharmacists about a patient's real use of any medication, which in theory greatly limits the possibility of doctor shopping. Unfortunately, the monitoring database won't be up and running for at least a year.

Keral Vogt, of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug Free Southwest Florida, sums up the problem that is likely to continue for the next year at least, saying 'These are tremendously strong drugs. The reason they work is because they're so powerful…there's a very little difference between the therapeutic dose, the overdose and the lethal dose."

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