For more information of confidential assistance
Call 800-306-3180

Crackdown On Crooked Florida Docs Cut Prescription Drug Death Rate

Surgery-Operation-420x320-lowIn a dramatic reversal in Florida prescription drug use, the skyrocketing death rate from overdoses declined 17% from 2010 to 2012 after climbing by 60% in the years 2003 to 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported those findings in its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The startling turnaround is being attributed to strict law enforcement and physician-prescribing measures that were implemented beginning in 2010.

Florida notorious for high prescription drug death rate

Because the Florida system requires each medical examiner to submit medical reports to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission (FMEC) each month on every death in which a drug is determined to be a cause of death, researchers were able to use FMEC data to quantify the overdose numbers.   The data revealed prescription drug overdoses had reached epidemic proportions in the period between 2003-2009, driven by overdoses of painkillers like Oxycontin and morphine. Opioid painkillers had become responsible for more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.

Overprescribing opioid drugs epidemic in Florida

One source of the high overdose rate was the rapid spread of pain clinics or pill mills in Florida in 2007. With names like East Coast Pain and Hallandale Pain, they flooded the state with high quantities of pain killers with little to no oversight.

These mills were largely responsible for Florida physicians gaining the reputation for overprescribing opioid drugs. Of the 100 doctors in the U.S. who dispensed the highest quantities of oxycodone from their offices, 98 of the doctors were from Florida.  The pain clinics employed 10-12 doctors with each seeing and writing prescriptions for as many as 100 patients a day.

Operation Pill Nation cracks down on “pill mills”

Once the overprescribing issue became well known, preventive measures were implemented state wide with state regulatory agencies enacting measures to address the problem. The Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies launched Operation Pill Nation, the largest crack down on the pill mills in South Florida to date. South Florida had now become a hotbed of shady pain clinics doling out prescriptions for powerful and addictive pain killers until the DEA operation took hold. In late 2010 pain clinic regulations were expanded, raids were conducted statewide, and physicians were prohibited from dispensing schedule II drugs in physician offices.

Florida prescription drug death rate plummets

Researchers have said the stricter initiatives implemented in Florida since 2010 played a major role in greatly reducing the prescription drug overdose deaths across the state. Once the regulations were put in place, a surprising 52% decline in overdose deaths from oxycodone was reported. The prescription drug death rate for benzodiazepines, another opioid, decreased more than 28%. Death rates for methadone and hydrocodone also decreased. Overall, overdose death rates for prescription drugs of any type decreased 23 %.

Prescription drug overdoses climb rapidly elsewhere

Research released in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control revealed prescription drug overdoses have reached new heights outside Florida, driven by overdoses of painkillers like oxycontin and morphine. A study published late last year revealed prescriptions for opioid pain relievers have nearly doubled from 11% in 2000 to nearly 20 percent in 2010, although experts say that the increase has not resulted in more effective pain management.