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Prescription-Pill and Alcohol Deaths in Flagler Far Outpace Those From Illegal Drugs

| September 24, 2013


It’s got little to do with illegal drugs. (Emanuelle)

The number of drug and alcohol-related deaths in Florida fell by 8.8 percent in 2012 compared with the previous year, according to the Just-released Medical Examiners Commission Drug Report. But the overall drop masks the persistent problem posed by prescription drugs, which account for more drug-related deaths than those attributed to cocaine, heroin, methadone and morphine combined. And alcohol-related deaths, which are included in the annual report, account for half the 8,330 such drug-related deaths in the state last year.

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Drugs or alcohol were not necessarily the cause of death in those 8,330 cases. Rather, as medical examiners categorize them, one or more drugs (or alcohol) was present in the person’s system at the time of death: an innumerable number of people who die happen to be taking prescription drugs, for example. A drug is considered the actual cause of death in a far smaller number of cases. Alcohol, for example, was considered the cause of death in 573 cases out of 4,026.

The numbers put in sharp perspective common misconceptions and exaggerations—by media, by police, by lawmakers—about the nature and extent of the drug problem, highlighting the relatively minor part played by illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine (and the virtually nonexistent part played by marijuana, to which no deaths have ever been attributed) as opposed to the more serious part played by such common prescription anti-anxiety drugs as Xanax or pain-killers such as oxycodone.

The report also puts in perspective the extent of the problem in Florida’s regions, including Flagler County, which is part of the 23rd Medical Examiner District (with St. Johns and Put6nam counties).

The three counties combined have a population of close to 300,000.

Xanax was the cause of death in five cases, and in three of those cases the person was older than 50. In none of the cases was the person younger than 25. There were no deaths attributed to valium in the district. There were just six deaths attributed to oxycodone, the pain-killer, and all six were to people age 35 or older. Eight deaths were attributed to hydrocodone, another popular pain-killer, seven of them to people 35 or older, and one to someone between 26 and 34. There was just one death attributed to morphine (the person was between 35 and 50).

In all, “accidental” deaths attributed to prescription drugs in Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam totaled 19 in 2012, almost all of them to people older than 35. That’s a 56 percent decline from the 43 deaths recorded the previous year in the district (compared to a 20 percent decline statewide, where 1,631 deaths in all were attributed to accidental overdoses of prescription drugs).

The numbers, in sum, while underscoring the danger of misused, abused or ill-prescribed prescription pills, also reveal that often-repeated claims by police, the media or lawmakers that such drugs are placing Florida’s youths at risk are demonstrably false and exaggerated.

The ibaccuracies and exaggerations apply even more to such drugs as cocaine, which claimed the lives of just three people in all of Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam in 2012, none of them younger than 26. Overall in the state, cocaine-related deaths totaled 549, with just three of those deaths affecting people younger than 18.

Heroin took the life of just one individual in all of Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam last year. That individual was older than 35. Deaths attributed to heroin totaled 108 in the state in 2012, a significant increase from the 57 recorded the previous year and the 48 recorded in 2010, raising some alarms that the drug may be staging a comeback.

State and law enforcement officials on Tuesday sought to take credit for the drop in deaths, attributing it to stronger enforcement against illicit drugs or illicit prescription drug rings. The state has made unquestionable strides against so-called pill-mills, where doctors illegally prescribed pain-killers that were then sold on the black market. But a large portion of the decline in deaths was attributable at least in part to the decline in deaths related to legal alcohol, a distinction officials did not make Tuesday.

“While this report is encouraging, Florida law enforcement must remain vigilant in our efforts to combat illegal drugs in our state,” Philip Thorne, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said. “One life lost to prescription drugs is one too many.”

The medical examiners’ report attributed no death to another substance police and politicians have been hyping for the past two years: so-called synthetic pot.

2012 Medical Examiners Commission Drug Report Florida

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12 Responses for “Prescription-Pill and Alcohol Deaths in Flagler Far Outpace Those From Illegal Drugs”

  1. Reaganomicon says:

    Look, it’s like this. Police departments do not get large amounts of money from the federal government for dealing with alcohol-related issues, or issues related to prescription drugs. They do, however, get lots and lots of money and toys for things like SWAT teams when they come down on drugs that are scheduled as illegal thanks to the war on drugs. It’s all about the money, and I challenge you to find someone in an administrative position within law enforcement that actually cares about anything other than new toys to play with and how well their pension is padded.

  2. Ben Dover says:

    its articles like this that make it near impossible for people like myself with three crushed disks in their neck , three herniated in lower back , torn rotator cuff , and torn ligament in my ankle and foot to get their pain medication, the pharmacies profile you , there needs to be a system oput in place where your Dr , your Pharmacist and the DEA all review your records and make the call , it would weed out all the people faking injuries and abusing meds, and making people like me being treated like a criminal , and suffering ,even though you paid 2oo hundred for a Dr appt with a legitimate Dr ,only to have pharmacies tell you we can t fill it in this county go to county your Dr`s in , so you go to Daytona cause your Dr is down there ,and they lie and tell you you have to fill it in county you live in, people need to understand just because you can t see or feel someone else`s pain, does not mean its not there , they did this to us with their war on drugs they need to find a way to fix it for the people whose quality of life is horrific without them ,its cruel torture.

  3. John Adams says:

    You cannot legislate common sense. If some people like to live their life that way, so be it. This is not a nanny state yet, in spite of odumbo’s haunted dreams.

    • A.S.F. says:

      @John Adams says–You appear to be politicizing and simplifying a very complex issue. This has nothing to do with Obama and everything to do with the nature of addiction and it’s widespread and tragic effects. You wouldn’t feel that it was just a matter of “common sense” if you ever had anyone you cared about destroyed by addiction. We need to put our resources where they can do the most good and, so far, unfortunately, we haven’t.. Not everyone will be able to be saved but some lives will be and it is worth the money and effort to do accomplish that.

    • JG says:

      Actually, the War on Drugs, the nation’s costliest and least successful, was started by that Republican demi-god, Ronald Reagan. Obama is only guilty of not recognizing what bullshit the whole thing is (much like the Florida legislature).

  4. rhweir says:

    No one has ever died directly from marijuana. But look at all the deaths caused by alcohol. It looks like people are fatally abusing by the easiest route, whatever is easiest to obtain. Unfortunately, I have had some dental and medical work done in the past year and was hydrocodone. Now, that is one nasty drug. One does of that was enough to cause me to flush the remainder of the prescription. People must be desperate for a buzz to abuse that crap, it’s awful.

  5. Nancy N. says:

    I’ve encountered the hassles put on legitimate patients from prescription pain med abuse myself and I’m not even a chronic pain med patient.

    About 7 years ago I had gallbladder surgery. I hated the way the pain meds made me feel and stopped taking them after the first 24 hours post-surgery. I was fine using other methods (non-medication) for pain control. But after a few days of feeling better, I started having some pain again. I was still managing fine without meds but was worried about the pain coming back, that it meant something was wrong. So I called the doctor’s office. The nurse was evasive, said I’d have to see the doctor, all this stuff that was totally unhelpful…it finally dawned on me that she assumed I was angling for more meds! I had to straight out lay it out for her – I DO NOT WANT MEDS, I have plenty still and am not even taking them. I am just worried and I want someone to tell me if it is alright that my pain came back! Then suddenly her attitude totally changed. I was, frankly, in her eyes guilty of wanting meds until I proved myself innocent by hitting her over the head with exactly what legitimate issue I had. It was frustrating to say the least.

    Even worse was the incident with my neurologist’s office. I have a hand tremor and a history of seizure-like episodes due to my lupus and had seen a neurologist in Daytona for monitoring for this for years.This doctor’s practice also does pain control. A couple of years ago when the state laws started to get tighter about pill mills, I went to check in for my appointment and was handed a form that I was told I could not see the doctor unless I signed. It stated that I was signing under penalty of perjury that I understood that I was being prescribed controlled pain medications and that I attested that this was the only doctor that I was being treated by for this condition…blah blah blah. I tried to refuse since they were asking me to sign under penalty of perjury statements that were flat out untrue, since I wasn’t being prescribed that type of medication. I was told by staff that ALL patients had to sign the statement or the doctor could lose his license, and that I would not be allowed to keep my appointment and would be charged for the cancellation. Yes, the staff really tried to tell me that the state would take my doctor’s license away if I didn’t commit perjury and say I was taking medications that I wasn’t! I signed to be able to keep my appointment and then took it up with the doctor. We had to go together to his senior partner to get permission to shred the form. It was ridiculous. I don’t go there anymore.

  6. @ Ben Dover says:

    what did people in your condition do before THOSE types of opiates were administered to the public the way they are now? I understand that most of these drugs are for people who are terminal but are being prescribed for back injuries and such which compounds the problems.

  7. Kathy D says:

    We all have an endocannabinoid system. It regulates the other systems in our body. As Raphael Mechoulem, the man who originally discovered THC in 1964 and has been studying cannabis ever since, whose team discovered the endocannabinoid system in 1987, states, “There is barely a biological or physiological system in our bodies in which the endocannabinoids do not participate”. Our bodies run on cannabinoids, some people don’t produce enough, like a diabetic with insulin. When the body’s own endocannabinoids are diminished, this causes a function issue within the body’s systems.

    We have American Medicine and it works for many, yet there are other widely accepted forms of medicine. Medical cannabis is considered holistic medicine in many areas of the country. It has always been a part of Ayurvedic, Chinese and Korean medicines. Cannabis was widely used as medicine in this nation until 1937. Now science understands the connection between the plant and humans, it is time the nation accepts cannabis medicine as a science. In addition to American Medicine we currently have Chiropractic, Holistic, Herbal and Ayurvedic medicine being practiced here. There is room for cannabis medicine, the practice of medicine based on the endocannabinoid system and using cannabis to treat it. To say we are a free nation and forbid the only natural homeostatic substance that can actually heal people is an oxymoron.

    Misinformation has done much damage over the last 75 years as has the war on a plant and those who use it. Cannabis has continually been shown to be a remarkable anti-inflammatory which could be of great help to the 86 million people that suffer chronic pain. No one ever died from cannabis/marijuana though much suffering has taken place from the prohibition of it. It is time to end this travesty. Education is key – Educate Everyone

    Learn more at

  8. seabourne says:

    If Florida would end pharmaceutical chemical slavery and allow medicinal use of cannabis we would have a more drastic reduction in pill related deaths. Topical use of cannabis butter is more effective for pain than any pill, with no damaging effect to the organs or body and no high. Three years after a heavy weight meat chopping cleaver landed across my foot, and after everything the medical community offered, I still could not walk until I began using cannabis butter on my foot. It was a life changer. I also found for a broken toe it was a miracle. For gallstones a lifesaver! Cannabis is one of the original medicines use for centuries and still safer than pill. No one ever died from cannabis in the entire history of the plant. Did I mention cannabis is not a narcotic? Chemical medicines have only been used for about 100 years and have killed people daily and will continue to. Denying Floridians the legal right to use cannabis medicine is a crime against humanity.

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