Florida Painkiller Overdose Epidemic


There are many things to which a person can become addicted. However, more often than not when we talk about addiction, we’re referring to alcohol or drug dependency. In fact, those are widely considered to be the most severe forms of addiction with the most numerous effects on an individual’s health and life. While drug addiction can refer to addiction to a variety of substance, opiate painkillers have become and remained a pressing issue to society since the 1990s. In the state of Florida and elsewhere in the United States, the high rate of painkiller abuse and addiction has reached epidemic-level proportions, causing much concern among public officials, law enforcement, and even American citizens. Part of the reason that the high rates of painkiller addiction has been so alarming is because with addiction comes overdose and the resultant overdose deaths, which are also being referred to as an epidemic. As such, the following will be a concise discussion on the painkiller overdose epidemic in the state of Florida in particular.

What is the Painkiller Epidemic & Why is Florida the Epicenter?

girl who overdosed

Although the 1990s are known for many things—the advent of boy bands, the era of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the ever-present fear of the Y2K meltdown that never came—many consider the 1990s as being the age of OxyContin. When the drug was released, there was very little empirical research on it; unfortunately, the lack of research was widely interpreted to mean that there was nothing we didn’t know about the drug, such as its incredibly high potential for abuse and addiction. As other pharmaceutical companies came out with their own formulas for high-potency painkillers, the market became saturated as doctors liberally prescribed OxyContin and other addictive opiates to anyone who was experiencing even moderate pain. Over the course of a decade, rates of painkiller addiction went through the roof, spreading like an infectious disease. In fact, it was actually the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that referred to the alarmingly high rates of painkiller abuse and addiction as an epidemic.

Florida quickly gained a reputation for having numerous doctors who operated on a cash-only basis, prescribing painkillers more liberally than anywhere else. Even recently it’s been estimated that doctors in Florida prescribe opiate painkillers ten times more frequently than doctors in every other state combined. Additionally, at one point it was estimated that there close to one thousand of these lenient pain clinics, or so-called “pill mills,” in the state of Florida with drug-seekers traveling from all over the country to see these doctors, returning home with hundreds of dollars in opiate painkillers that sell for thousands anywhere else. Florida was colloquially called the “Oxy Express” because this was such a widespread practice. According to officials, the issue was that Florida was one of the last holdouts to adopting a centralized database for monitoring the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances, known also as a prescription drug monitoring program or PDMP.

The Painkiller Overdose Epidemic in Florida


As a natural progression, high levels of painkiller abuse results in an increasing frequency of painkiller overdose and overdose-related deaths. Between the years 2003 and 2009, the state of Florida saw an alarming 61-percent increase in the rate of painkiller overdose deaths, rising from 1,804 to 2,905 in only six years. According to reports, more of these deaths were found to be the result of improper use of oxycodone (OxyContin) and alprazolam (Xanax) than any other opiate painkillers or benzodiazepines. In 2010, a survey was conducted that ranked the doctors who prescribed opiates by the quantity or amount of opiates prescribed; of the top 100 doctors, it was found that 98 of them practiced in the state of Florida.

A closer look was taken at Florida’s medical practitioners when it evidence seemed to indicate that a high percentage of the medication that Florida doctors were prescribing was being indicated in a number of painkiller overdoses as well as in high rates of diversion, which refers to the illegal channeling of prescription medications to individuals who illicitly abuse those medications. As such, all statewide pain management clinics and any other practices that prescribed and dispensed controlled substances were required to register with a centralized state database in 2010, which was followed by numerous raids and the arrests of doctors who were found guilty of malpractice. Over the course of the proceeding years, the number of pain management clinics in Florida has decreased substantially to being about one-third what it had been several years ago. Since then, the death rate for prescription drugs overall has decreased by 23.2 percent in the state of Florida, which is a direct result of much fewer operational pill mills as well as Florida having implemented a prescription drug management program in order to maintain better control of the dispensing of dangerous and addictive medications.

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While rates of painkiller abuse and overdose are still high today, there have been measures taken at both the federal and state levels that has resulted in a slow yet steady decline in the fatality rates of opiate painkillers. If you or someone you love is suffering from painkiller addiction or another form of dependency, call Recovery Hub today at 1-888-220-4352. We have a team of recovery specialists available for free consultations and assessments. Don’t let the disease of addiction claim another life—call us now.

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