MIAMI – From “Scarface” to “Miami Vice,” Florida‘s drug problem has been portrayed as the story of a single narcotic: cocaine. But for Floridians, prescription drugs are increasingly a far more lethal habit.
An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released this week by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.
Law enforcement officials said that the shift toward prescription-drug abuse, which began here about eight years ago, showed no sign of letting up and that the state must do more to control it.
“You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then there are crimes like robbing drug shipments,” said Jeff Beasley, a drug intelligence inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which co-sponsored the study. “There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs, and that’s what makes things complicated.”
The report’s findings track with similar studies by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which has found that roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants.
The Florida report analyzed 168,900 deaths statewide. Cocaine, heroin and all methamphetamines caused 989 deaths, it found, while legal opioids – strong painkillers in brand-name drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin – caused 2,328.
Drugs with benzodiazepine, mainly depressants like Valium and Xanax, led to 743 deaths. Alcohol was the most commonly occurring drug, appearing in the bodies of 4,179 of the dead and judged the cause of death of 466 – fewer than cocaine (843) but more than methamphetamine (25) and marijuana (0).