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Prescription Pill-Popping By Far a Leading Killer as Florida’s Drug Deaths Spike 20%

| July 1, 2010

Gone are the good old days when it was heroin and a French connection.

Oxycodone, the addictive prescription pain-killer also known by its Purdue Pharma brand name OxyContin, directly caused more deaths in Florida in 2009 than cocaine, heroin and morphine combined. Prescription drugs as a whole are killing far more Floridians than illegal drugs, with some 8,600 deaths last year involving at least one prescription drug, according to an annual report released today by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.

That’s 5 percent of all deaths in Florida in 2009, when 171,300 people died in the state.

The number of people killed by prescription drugs is a significant 20 percent increase over last year’s 6,200 deaths attributed to overdoses. Much of the increase is due to a spike in oxycodone addiction. The increase in prescription-drug addiction continues a trend that began in Florida 10 years ago, when prescription drugs overtook illegal drugs as leading causes of drug-related deaths.

Alcohol is also included in the examiners’ analysis, and it leads the way of all drug-related deaths, with 4,046.

The annual report is a stark look at the effects of legalized drug addiction and over-prescription of drugs, both of which affect a far larger segment of the population than recreational or illegal narcotics.

For the first time in 2009, the commission tracked deaths by region. In Flagler County’s district, which includes St. Johns and Putnam counties, 22 deaths were attributed to oxycodone (the fourth lowest number in the state’s 23 districts), with 13 of those deaths directly attributed to the drug, and nine cited as being present among other drugs that contributed to death.

Hydrocodone claimed 16 lives in the district. Cocaine contributed to 19 deaths in the Flagler district, though only four cases were directly attributed to the drug. In 15 cases, cocaine was present in the body in conjunction with other drugs that proved lethal. Overall in Florida, cocaine-related deaths (including the majority of cases where cocaine wasn’t directly the factor but was present in the body at the time of death), have fallen from a peak of 2,179 in 2007 to 1,462 in 2009. (Again, cocaine was the direct result of death in 529 cases out of those).

Ken Kramer, a researcher with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Florida, says the numbers underestimate the extent of the problem, because medical examiners do not track deaths attributed to antipsychotic drugs or to antidepressants, both of which carry black-box or black-label warnings. The warnings on antidepressants, required by the Food and Drug Administration, state that the drugs increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults up to age 24. (Antidepressants include Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, Lexapro and Celexa.)

Anti-psychotic drugs carry a variety of black label warnings of increased mortality in elderly patients (including a death rate almost twice as high for people taking Risperdal, for example). Those drugs, prescribed and often overprescribed in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, include Abilify, Clozaril,
Geodon, Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa.

“Certainly, the actual number of prescription drug deaths is higher than the annual report states,” Kramer said. “It is unknown just how much higher because the Medical Examiners Commission does not track these classes of drugs.”

Two years ago Kramer got his concern heard by the commission following an email exchange with a commissioner in which he argued that antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs’ contributions to mortality should be part of the annual report. He was rebuffed. One examiner vsaid he had not seen “more than the occasional death caused by these types of drugs,” according to the minutes of the Aug. 13, 2008 meeting of the commission.

Other findings in the 2009 report, which can be read in its entirety here:

  • Prescription drugs tracked in the report account for 79 percent of all drug occurrences in deaths when alcohol is excluded.
  • Deaths directly attributed to Oxycodone increased by 25.9 percent over 2008.
  • Cocaine occurrences decreased by 18.4 percent over 2004.
  • 5,275 individuals, or 7.1 percent more than in 2008, died with one or more prescription drugs in their system. The drugs in those cases were identified as both the cause of death and present in the deceased person.
  • Overall, 171,300 deaths occurred in Florida in 2009.

The report specifies that the “state’s medical examiners were asked to distinguish between the drugs being the ’cause’ of death or merely ‘present’ in the body at the time of death. A drug is only indicated as the cause of death when, after examining all evidence and the autopsy and toxicology results, the medical examiner determines the drug played a causal role in the death.”

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37 Responses for “Prescription Pill-Popping By Far a Leading Killer as Florida’s Drug Deaths Spike 20%”

  1. Capt. Obvious says:

    How’s that war on drugs goin for ya??

  2. Tejsten says:

    Huh? They don’t track antidepressant drug deaths?!?!?!

  3. Michael Walker says:

    This paradigm that drugs are the solution to all problems is a patent failure. MDs should be held accountable for deaths they cause drugging their patients. Accountability would provide some checks and balances to medical manslaughter.

  4. Doyle Mills says:

    The public deserves to know how many deaths are attributed to antidepressants and antipsychotics.

  5. Randy says:

    What are the people we elect doing about this?
    Shouldn’t we be talking to our Political leaders?
    It appears the Drug companies are getting away with “Murder” literally.

  6. Mary Collins says:

    I am not surprised. There are so many false data coming out of the pharma/psychiatric money making campanies.

    Society must know this; so we have to keep on getting out the truth.

  7. Rose Custer says:

    Add to this anti-depressants and antipsychotics and you have a tremendous amount of deaths related to the big Pharma’s, they need to be made accountable for what they are doing.

  8. Bettie Blumer says:

    Thank you for this important article. This information should be widespread and carried by all the newsmedia into each American home. If this is true in Florida, it’s probably true in many – if not all – of the other 49 states.

  9. MrNurse says:

    Attributable deaths to prescribed medications is even broader than reported by news groups. The adverse side effects of common diabetes, cardiac, and psychiatric drugs is higher than can be easily believed by the public. Awareness of all side effects along with Full Informed Consent of the side effects of all drugs should be Mandatory and supported by our legal system. We don’t do enough to warn patients and parents of patients of these horrible side effects and other alternatives to prescription drugs.

  10. SL says:

    Mr. Kramer has hit a very important issue that deserves as much exposure as death attributed to Oxycodone. Patients are rarely told of the deadly side effects of psychiatric drugs by their doctors and ultimately these doctors need to be held accountable.

  11. ErnestR says:

    Maybe part of the reason that antidepressants and antipsychotics remain two of the most profitable and top selling drug categories in America lies in the fact that many people don’t know that they can and do frequently cause death, suicide and generate suicidal thoughts and anger resulting in attacks on others. The rash of school and workplace shootings throughout America very often are caused by someone on antidepressants and/or antipsychotics. Current TV ads for the antipsychotic Abilify urge people to ask their doctor if adding Abilify to the antidepressant they are already taking might help if an antidepressant alone is not enough. Every Medical Examiner should be taking a long look at deaths where the person was on antidepressants and antipsychotics. These are the top selling drugs in America and many kids and elderly patients are dying after being put on these drugs.

  12. elaygee says:

    They should give it out free. Think of how much money and energy we’d save prosecuting and jailing them. Just give them as many pills as they like and keep them off the roads and whatever happens to them happens. Those that want rehab should also get it free so they can rejoin society.

  13. FightingGrandma says:

    It only takes 2 Oxys and one can be addicted! How many people in their right mind would take such a thing if they knew the true black box warnings? What ever happened to the Hippocratic Oath?

  14. Johnny says:

    [What are the people we elect doing about this?] The answer is that they hare having bigger houses built in more exclusive neighborhoods paid for by their stock in Pharmaceutical companies! We need to keep exposing the truth and they will be less and less inclined to let criminal behavior continue, because their motivation to do so will become obvious. Or obvious to more people.

  15. Judith Duckhorn says:

    There is an enormous error bein made in not counting and making public the number of deaths from ingesting any anti-depressant and/or anti-psychotic drugs in putting together these statistics. Who is behind the suppression of that data, exactly?

  16. Col Landruth says:

    The M.E. Commission and ME’s need to get out of the 19th century and computerize everything into a statewide computer system.

    That way the stats on every drug could be queried Having such a body of knowledge could then be used by policy makers. Everybody knows oxycodone is a problem. That’s not news. News would be data on drugs heretofore never compiled and published.

    Paper in file cabinets in various districts does no one any good except the eventual termites.

  17. The medical establishment has moved off its given purpose of healing and now supply drugs like any drug dealer. We have been fooled into believing that these drugs handle all manner of illness, when in reality they simply drug the person into oblivion and oppress the soul. It is unbelievable that some of these practitioners can take the Hippocratic oath. They have made a mockery of the profession and have converted to the Hypocritical Oath instead. Kudos to groups like CCHR for fighting for human rights.

  18. SandraG says:

    C’mon, Medical Examiners are not in the business of saving lives. They’re in the business of cutting into dead bodies. The dead are the ME’s bread and butter. So forget about the MEs coming forth and pushing to publicize additional information that may save lives. They will only do that when ordered to do so. If they ever started saving lives they’d have to cut their own pay.

  19. Patrick L. says:

    Quite an alarming statistic. Why aren’t there more controls on this? Good on someone reporting the facts. Thanks to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights for informing the public.

  20. Carl Watts says:

    The very idea of offering up drugs as a solution is insane. Drugs are poisons! I agree with holding the doctors responsible as the are the “trusted” people pushing big pharma poisons!

  21. Capt. Obvious says:

    Yes, drug companies and insurance companies dictate the healthcare in this country. Doesn’t it work WONDERFULLY?!? So much better than in those damn socialist countries. We are so much healthier! Look around.

  22. Tony Miller says:

    Big Pharma has the best politicians money can buy.The FDA is their New York office and they know where their bread is buttered. big Pharma controls the FDA…not the public.

  23. wholymary says:

    Yes, it is up to ALL of US to write to our represetatives our Senators who are by the way woking as our public servants for us we are there leaders and tell them what we want them to do for us. We must insist that they reform the FDA so these dangerous drugs are being seen as dangerous drugs and not getting out onto the market. Write your Senators and insist that they reform the FDA and the drug companies. Physicians should be held accountable as well for over medicating thier patients or medicating without first examining their patients to test for their medical problems before prescribing and offering alternative treatments based on the findigs of these tests.

  24. TC says:

    I think it’s time for a public demonstrations at the appropriate doors. I remember when a couple of the most vital vitamins were immediately banned for years because they were tainted and there was a death or two. Isolated cases. Yet thousands die from dangerous toxic prescription drugs. There is only one reason our government would not take immediate and drastic action – C O R R U P T I O N. But the fault lies with the people as we support this government with our own money. Support a government run for the people, by the people, not for and by drug dealers. Our new government IS little more than the pharmaceutical companies. That’s who and what our government is. It’s time to stop trying to reason with corruption. We must employ our rights while we have some left. It’s time for public demonstration exposing the Oxycontin deaths and more. Thank you CCHR for your dedication and unsurpassed effectiveness in this cause.


    Vancouver in British Columbia Canada has the most liberal “DRUG LAWS” in all of North America

    Our version of “Harm Reduction” is to the “Extreme Enablement”, you will not find a more free and open addiction society anywhere.

    In our “Downtown Eastside” we have a high concentration of active addiction it’s been estimated that there are over ten thousand “ADDICTS” in a twelve square block

    area. It is by far the highest in all of Canada, people migrate here from all across the country to freely indulge the police have a policy that as long as they are not killing

    each other or any one else they basically leave them alone.

    I interview a young man who has used Heroin most of his life he recently relapsed after eleven month’s clean time this video is quite graphic

    The Harsh Reality of Drug Addiction

    This video was shot in Vancouvers downtown eastside by the narrator it is quite extreme, It shows how common place and and readily available drugs are and how people can succomb to a extreme physical reaction from lack of sleep, nutrition and dehydration. This video was made for many different reasons, one being educational the other as mentioned earlier it’s common place here in Vancouver, in any other city or town in North America this man would have recieved immediate medical attention but here in Vancouver both the police and ambulance just drive by. If you do not belive me come on down and see our little human circus slash “HARM REDUCTION EXPERIMENT”
    This man was spotted two hours later sleeping on a concrete curb as his pillow.
    Both the narrator and producer of this video have had spent many years struggling with addiction and have spent hard time in Vancouvers “NOTORIOUS” downtown eastside.
    Today they have escaped and are clean and sober and now dedicate there lives to those who still suffer from “THE HARSH REALITY OF ADDICTION”

    Next we have a woman named Lisa she has been on all the current Harm reduction program’s available in Vancouver’s Downtown eastside
    this is a sad sad story this poor woman only has her addiction to look forward to in her life

    Last but not least we interviewed more woman who talk about the pro’s and con’s of Heroin vs. Methadone

    You be the judge the whole reason for these videos is to bring some truth out about the addiction support services that are in use here in Vancouver. My research has been on a personal level for over twenty five years in addiction as well as these and many more video interviews. Thank you recovered addict

  26. shuman sheets says:

    Psychiatric medication is a multi-billion dollar industry (somone has to pay the 1500 drug store lobbyists in DC). Oxycontin is also a multimillion dollar drug all by itself but it isnt prescribed like candy like Paxil, Zoloft and Abilify are. Many patients taking these psych drugs take 3-4-5 at a time. Each new one added is based on the lie that it will handle the side effects (which can be and are fatal) from the previos ones. So this is where the AMA and APA come into the picture along with the FDA being their front group that allows the M.E. to not divulge the toxicity reports of those who died with psych drugs in their system. Tell the puiblic the truth and many will lose their jobs due to a rapid drop in sales. Like that matters to the CEO and Chairman of all drug companies! What matters most is that their customers are addicted and stay addicted and keep on being good customers. This plays a vital role in shaping our governments’ socialist agenda which started back in the 60’s. Drug addicts can not fight back against an oppressive government machine taking away our Constitutional Rights. It is part of the bigger picture. Fortunately we have organizations like CCHR and and many others who are fighting the BiG Pharma, FDA, APA, AMA, machine.
    I personally have met family members of those individuals who have lost their lives to these drugs so I speak from experience. Most family members are in grief for years so they do not have the wherewithal to fight back and demand the FDA take these drugs off the market. But fortunately, many parents these days are getting the data that these ” supposed cures” are killing people at an alarming rate. If you talk to users of these drugs, they will tell you they would love to stop taking them but they can’t because the withdrawal symptoms are just too much to bear. This is where a lot of people end up taking their own lives. Because they want to stop the madness but truly go mad when they stop taking them. Psychiatrists and those doctors who prescreibe these drugs should be held responsible for these deaths. But the ME do not have to track them so they are allowed to keep on killing people. Welcome to Amerika! Have a good 4th of July while our beds are burning.

  27. Joel says:

    So, it is a proven fact these drug companies pump out all these drugs into society and many people die as a direct result. Another proven fact is that they are doing nothing to cease and nothing to handle the destruction.
    What if a commercial airline company had a plane fall from the sky and said, “It’s not our fault, we will not compensate the families, clean up the wreckage, or even pay for the funerals and we will continue flying as before”
    What if an oil company dumped tons and tons of oil into the environment and said, “It’s not our fault, we will not clean up the oil or compensate the area for the dead fish because the oil soaked marine life & birds died from some other reason”
    Can you imagine the outrage from the public and government at that airline or oil company? That oil or airline company would be shut down and those in charge imprisoned.
    Now, WHY aren’t those same standards applied to drug companies? Hint#1: it is not the “government” or “Washington” or “Tallahassee”. Blaming the whole Food & Drug Administration won’t answer the question. Find WHO is putting a stop to action. Hint#2 Look for a political leader(s) or bureaucrat(s) that objects to action against the drug companies. Investigate that person’s connections and finances then take a deep breath just before you discover the truth.
    Should FlaglerLive investigate that and find the political leader(s) with drug money in his pockets and the blood of overdosed citizens on his hands that would be one HUGE story. It would take some doing but it could be done.

  28. Cassandra Auerbach says:

    Thanks so much for publishing this story!

    Please, please get your reporters investigating the greater prescription drug story relating to deaths!

    Anti-depressants and anti-psychotics are a very good place to start, as they are KNOWN to cause suicidal thoughts, suicide, depression, and violent psychosis.


    Cass A

  29. Judy Reed says:

    It is atrocious that anti-depressant and anti-psychotic related deaths are not counted. If they were, the number would sky-rocket even further. My mother died from the effects of only one dose of oxycontin and two doses of Celexa, along with a couple days’ worth of Xanax, given to her for “nervousness” and pain when she was in the hospital. Her medical charts actually said not to give her these drugs, but she was given them anyway (standard procedure) without consulting her daughters. Her death wouldn’t be counted even if anti-depressant and anti-psychotic related deaths were included because the medicos won’t admit that my mother died from these prescribed drugs.

    We really need to get control of these substances out of the hands of psychiatrists and hospital personnel.

  30. Not Amazed says:

    I looked up Oxycontin and discovered that three brothers, two of them psychiatrists purchased Purdue Pharma and promptly created Oxycontin. Arthur M. Sackler, Mortimer Sackler and Raymond Sackler. Oxycontin was supposed to be a non-addictive synthetic opiate, at least that it how the drug was promoted until the company was finally busted and fined a measly 600 million in 2007. The drug is still on the market. Quaaludes were finally banned after too many deaths in the 70’s, maybe it’s time to ban this Oxycontin.

    “Properly” prescribed drug interactions are not just killing Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, her son and our soldiers, these drugs are killing thousands more that are not famous enough to be noticed.

  31. Ahreyla says:

    I see the importance of this information. ALTHOUGH, WHY NOT ALL THE FACTS!?! How about the statistics of how many people these drugs have worked for?

  32. Dave Sanders says:

    So Grant knows how many people had oxycodone in their bodies when they died but doesn’t have a clue on antidepressant drugs? That’s ludicrous.

  33. nodoubt says:

    Here’s a thought……..why don’t we all expect people to be a little more responsible with their own drug intake??? When did we turn into a society of expecting the government to control every part of our lives to the point where there is no personal responsibility?? I have had extensive surgeries in my lifetime and actually received Oxycodone as a pain reliever. I have seen reports about this on tv so I was VERY cautious about my intake and, after recovery, I destroyed the remaining tablets.

    I just don’t believe how many people are looking at every government entitity and doctors rather than taking any responsibility for personal choices made…….guess that’s why the USA is heading in the present direction.

  34. Elaine says:

    Everyone should go to FDLE website (publications) and read the Medical Examiner’s Report. The drug breakdown is there and you will know the death rate of the particular drug (in Florida) and it as a drug present but cause of death is something else. It will make you want to stick to plain old aspirin.

  35. Dylan Taylor says:

    I agree with most of what every one has shared – My 42 y/o wife is, by definition, addicted to Pain Medication. Everyone has THEIR reason why they ‘NEED’ them so Ill spare you her story.

    She was on Roxicodone and was given the medication, that followed the instructions, from the Doctor. How ever much she was prescribed for each day. Her Pain Management Dr. went to a seminar for ‘Opana (sc)’ so… She got switched to it. Which is not working as well and has left her with constant breathing problems, Cold Sweats, muscle soreness and 1 or 2 other things. I told the Dr. who responded by telling me that she must be depressed :-) WHAT?!?!?

    Regardless of what other people say (or who cares or believes me), since the injuries that began this daily ‘Pill popping’ routine, she would like NOTHING MORE then to discontinue the use of EVERY pill. But Ive had 4 different Doctors tell me that two injuries are generally considered ‘Chronic’ and they can not be repaired, fixed or replaced (1 of them is due to her TBI).

    But I’m curious if a Doctor might be compensated for prescribing the medication that was being ‘pitched’ at the seminar he just went to???

    The neurologist said it was foolish to ‘suddenly switch from something that worked – Especially with a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor’ (???)

    Is it true (or even possible) that a Doctor would be paid to prescribe ANY medication. Because that would lead me to believe that the $$$ a Doctor gets might be a consideration on what a patient might need. Which would be unfortunate for EVERY patient

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated

  36. tl says:

    I dont think you people fully understand the problems. Its dumbasses who mix alcohol and oxy who increase the risk of dieing. If they o.d on pure oxy intake then they want to die because its sheer stupidity to take more than 20-30 mg daily of this stuff.. People are addicted to it because they get to that feeling good and not falling down drunk state of pain relief in 20 mins or less without the gross taste of alcohol.
    And i know you drunks are addicted and killing some sort of emotional or physical pain so stop with this pot calling the kettle crap. For those of you who dont numb yourselves.. Good for you. I personally want the choice. Liberty sucks.. I prefer freedom..

    More people die from alcoholics trying drive drunk and pure liver failure from drinking and yet no one cries foul because its a legal over the counter drug? You people are over reacting and there will alway be people who abuse things but there are people who legitimately need opiate based painkillers and unless you all can offer up some solutions, pipe down and go drink your drug of choice (alcohol)..

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