Florida sees drop in overdose death rate

Death rate from prescription drug overdoses fell by 23%

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When it comes to prescription drug abuse, Florida has always been at the top of the list.

Now after stronger measures enacted by lawmakers, tougher regulations and enforcement, the number of people dying from overdoses has made a startling drop.

The death rate from prescription drug overdoses fell by 23 percent in just two years.

Researchers said this is the first significant decline since the prescription drugs abuse epidemic started more than a decade ago.

For doctors, they said it's a sign that the measures are working and hopefully people are getting help.

"Florida was really the epicenter of the prescription drug epidemic in this country," said Dr. Joe Spillane.

Spillane, a pharmacist and toxicologist at UF Health, knows first-hand how dangerous prescription drug abuse can be. That's why he's excited to hear drug overdose deaths have dropped significantly in Florida.

In 2010, Florida began requiring pain clinics to register with the state, and law enforcement raids shut down other clinics and seized medications.
Dr. Spillane said a new state prescription drug database is helping as well.

"When somebody comes into the emergency department or any pharmacy and they have a prescription or somebody prescribes it, we can then query that database and see if they've been doctor shopping or have gone to numerous places," said Spillane.

From 2010 to 2012, the death rate in Florida from prescription drug overdoses fell by 23 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In the same time period, the rate fell by more than half for OxyCodone.
But overdose deaths from other illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine increased slightly.

"One of the concerns is, will people now use more heroin or something now because if you're an opioid addict and you can't get a hold of prescription opioids, then you may resort to heroin," said Spillane.

The increase in heroin deaths didn't offset the decline in prescription drug deaths researchers said.

And Dr Brian Jackson of the Greenfield Center in Jacksonville said he's noticing something else.

"We're seeing more and more people coming for help to get off the opioids they've been on," said Jackson.

Jackson said new Florida regulations are causing people to think twice.

"What has happened is people who couldn't get prescriptions anymore from these pain clinics have been going to the street and they're jeopardizing getting arrested and going to jail, plus it's very expensive," said Jackson.

Nationally, the rate of prescription drug deaths has remained high through 2011, according to reports.

A few other states have seen declines in prescription drug abuse deaths, but none as drastic as Florida.