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Heroin Overdoses Spike After Florida
Cracks Down on Prescription Pill Abuse

| January 26, 2015

Cooking light. (Chris Gehlen)

Cooking light. (Chris Gehlen)

Bill Gettle has been on the brink of death from a heroin overdose more than once.

Three years ago he overdosed and had to be revived with a reversal drug called Narcan.


“I didn’t really care,” Gettle said. “I was using amounts I knew I’d seen other people die from. In my early 20s, I lost more than one friend to overdose.”

Gettle is a 44-year-old general contractor in Orlando, and working through a 12-step program now. He’s had two years of sobriety, minus a few slips off the wagon.

“If I had continued use like that, the OD that was gonna kill me was probably just around the corner,” he said. “Because, I mean, I have used to the point where I’ve been close to death more than once.”

Five years ago, Florida was labeled the prescription drug capital of the U.S. Seven people died every day from overdoses – until the Florida Legislature started a crackdown.

The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program made opiate pills more expensive on the street, and left many addicts with a choice: Get treatment, or find a substitute.

But there’s a downside in the drop in prescription drug use. Overdoses and deaths from heroin are on the rise in Florida. In 2010, 48 people died from heroin overdoses.

By 2013, that number had quadrupled.

That year, the number of heroin overdoses and deaths in Orange and Osceola Counties was 26. The final number for 2014 is expected to double that. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings in a recent public service announcement that heroin is killing Central Florida residents.

“Heroin overdoses have been reported all over Orange County,” Demings said. “With more than half of the deaths taking place on the east side. Overdoses are up more than 50 percent.”

Experts say the recent spike in heroin use is a result of Florida’s efforts to combat prescription opiate abuse.

“Heroin and opioids of course just act identically in the body,” said Jacinta Gau, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida. Gau said heroin acts just like morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone.

“It just sends your brain into a tail spin,” she said.

In 2010, 98 of the country’s top 100 oxycodone prescribing physicians were in Florida. Huge reforms were put in place, including a prescription drug-tracking database, while law enforcement went after the so-called pill mills.

Prescription opioid deaths dropped. Addicts had a choice: get clean or find a substitute.

Kelly Steele oversees drug court in Orange County, a diversion program. Most of her cases involve cocaine and marijuana, but she said heroin cases are rising. In 2011, less than five percent of people in drug court said heroin was their drug of choice. Now heroin’s the drug of choice for 15 percent, she said.

“People who are used to getting that really intense high are still now looking for something to offset their old habit in the pill realm,” Steele said. “Pills are on the decline for use. And heroin’s on the increase. So it seems like an offsetting.”

Bill Gettle thinks the flood of prescription pills helped create a lot of opiate addicts — and those addicts have gone from pills to heroin. Gettle, who used heroin daily for seven years in his early 20s, managed to kick the habit for more than a decade. That is until he broke a couple ribs and a friend gave him some oxycodone for the pain.

“One thing led to another, I shot those Oxies,” Gettle said. “Within about a week after that, I say I conveniently ran across someone, but I was seeking out crowds where I could probably find me some heroin. And then I was back off to the races.”

Gettle says he was an addict before he ever did drugs, and he knows he’ll be an addict for the rest of his life. The question is whether he’s using, or in recovery.

It’s a choice, he says, between heaven and hell, or life and death.

Abe Aboraya, Health News Florida

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2 Responses for “Heroin Overdoses Spike After Florida
Cracks Down on Prescription Pill Abuse”

  1. orphan says:

    I’ll just say this (and I believe that I have said it before on this site).
    American families are killing themselves with love. But that ‘love’ is not the kind that actually nurtures a healthy family group.
    No. These family members share in the ‘gift’ of sharing prescription pain pills accessed through their elderly parents and grandparents. I see it e v e r y day!
    Some of the people I am aware of claim that this is the only way to make up for what they need to make ends meet above their social security checks. I don’t allow that as an excuse! To grandparents I say: “There are agencies out there to help you keep your head above water. So why not take that help, instead of consigning your precious loved ones to a hell that eventually will drag ALL of your family down?” Damn!
    I just don’t know what happened to my America.
    Yes I smoked maryjane. Yes I have consumed a quantity of alcohol. Yes yes yes to all of the (well, almost all) queries regarding my past. But I was born with a functioning brain and for the most part I have used it wisely throughout my wonderful life, and that allows me to sit here and bitch about idiots who throw their most precious family members into the abyss. I don’t get it.

  2. John Smallberries says:

    “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Specifically, overdose deaths from opioids decreased by an average of 20 percent one year after the law’s implementation, 25 percent by two years, and up to 33 percent by years five and six.

    They concluded, “In an analysis of death certificate data from 1999 to 2010, we found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower mean opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates compared with states without such laws. This finding persisted when excluding intentional overdose deaths (ie, suicide), suggesting that medical cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality among individuals using opioid analgesics for medical indications. Similarly, the association between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates persisted when including all deaths related to heroin, even if no opioid analgesic was present, indicating that lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality were not offset by higher rates of heroin overdose mortality. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, our results suggest a link between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality.”

    Translation: had the legislature not moved the goal posts so far for grassroots actions that it’s basically impossible to get one passed, florida might be seeing a dramatic decrease in heroin overdoses instead of a spike in them. Remember, it’s not about what the people want, it’s about money and favors at the legislative level.

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