Deaths from prescription drug overdose rose 84% in Florida from 2003 to 2009, based on data from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
The greatest increases in death rates were seen in users of oxycodone (265%), alprazolam (234%), and methadone (79%), standing in stark contrast to a decline in cocaine-related deaths (39% from 2007 to 2009) and heroin-related deaths (62% from 2003 to 2009). In 2009, the number of prescription drug–related deaths (13.4/100,000 people) in Florida was four times the amount of deaths from illicit drugs (3.4/100,000), according to the data reported July 7 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The total number of Florida drug-overdose deaths in 2003-2009 was 16,550. Of those, 86% were ruled as unintentional by the medical examiners’ office, 11% were ruled suicides, 3% were described as of undetermined intent, and less than 1% were ruled homicides or pending (numbers do not add to 100% due to rounding).
The Florida data were described as "more timely and specific" than national data derived from death certificates, according to the report.
"These findings indicate a need to strengthen interventions aimed at reducing overdose deaths from prescription drugs in Florida," wrote Bruce Goldberger, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and his colleagues (MMWR 2011 July 8; 60;26:869-72), who noted that similar trends in drug-related overdose deaths have been reported by the Kentucky Office of the State Medical Examiner.
The authors pointed out a large increase in the number of pain clinics operating in Florida "that prescribe large quantities of oxycodone and alprazolam, some of which is ultimately used for nonmedical purposes." Some of the customers of these clinics travel from Appalachian states including Kentucky to purchase drugs for resale, according to grand jury findings in Broward County, Fla.
The report calls on states to institute drug-monitoring systems, tighten restrictions on pain clinics, and regulate wholesale distributors of frequently abused prescription drugs.