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Prescription Drugs Killed More Floridians Than Illicit Drugs In ’07

John Commins, for Florida Healthflash, June 26, 2008

A report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the improper use of prescription drugs killed three times more Floridians in 2007 than did all illegal drugs combined.

The annual Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons report analyzed 168,900 autopsies performed in Florida in 2007 and found that 8,620 people died with one or more of the drugs specified in the report in their bodies.

Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine played a role in 989 deaths. Legal opioids like the painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin caused 2,328 deaths, and depressants like Xanax and Valium were involved in 743 deaths.

The report prompted calls by law enforcement officials for improved monitoring of prescription drug abuse and increasing public awareness about its potential dangers. "The rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs is over three times as high as the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined," says Bill Janes, director of the Office of Drug Control. "We have not yet implemented a statewide monitoring plan that will help reduce the problem. The monitoring plan is our priority effort, but that is not enough."

Janes also wants doctors and pharmacists to help law enforcement identify and stop doctor shoppers. He says the state must also find a way to curb illegal Internet sales of prescription drugs. "Only through a comprehensive, coordinated strategy will we be able to reverse this tragic, unacceptable trend," Janes says. Traces of alcohol were found in 4,179 autopsies, and it was determined to be the cause of death in 466 instances. There were 843 cocaine-related deaths, 25 methamphetamine-related deaths, and no marijuana-related deaths.

The report also found that 110 of the autopsies found traces of heroin, an increase of 14% since 2006, while another 1,253 autopsies found traces of oxycodone, an increase of 36% over 2006.

John Commins