Drug-related deaths drop 8.8 percent in 2012

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Oxycodone, cocaine and methadone-related deaths in Florida dropped last year, while the state saw a spike in fatalities caused by heroin, according to a report released Tuesday.

Oxycodone, a prescription painkiller, remained the drug responsible for the most deaths in 2012, however, the data from the Florida Medical Examiners shows.

Overall, the examiners said they saw an 8.8 percent decrease in drug-related deaths last year, from 9,135 in 2011 to 8,330 in 2012. The number of deaths caused by oxycodone decreased by 41 percent; by cocaine 9.1 percent, and by methadone 21.4 percent.

"Of the top 100 oxycodone dispensers — these are doctors — in the entire country, 98 of them were in our state and now we're down to zero," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said. "We're blessed to finally see a decline in these prescription drug deaths."

The number of deaths caused by heroin increased by 89.5 percent in 2012 over the previous year, according to the report, which designated it as the most harmful drug. Officials who discussed the report at a news conference did not address the upsurge or indicate what efforts were in place to reduce it.

Florida's Office of Vital Statistics reported more than 178,000 deaths in 2012. Of the 8,330 deaths that were drug-related, prescriptions were found more often than illicit drugs in the bodies of the deceased.

"Drugs are changing," Bondi said. "This is the modern day drug of choice."

In an effort to reduce the number of prescription drug-related deaths, Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 created seven Statewide Drug Enforcement Strike Force teams. The teams were charged with closing legal loopholes that permitted doctors and pharmacies to abuse their prescription rights, in many cases through the use of pain clinics.

The teams have three chief goals: targeting doctors and health care facilities that are illegally distributing the drugs; seizing the assets of the sellers, and shutting down "pill mills," said Philip Thorne, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

Since May 2011, the seven Regional Drug Enforcement Strike Forces have closed 254 clinics and made 4,226 arrests, including that of 76 doctors, said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It also said the forces have seized more than $11 million, 876,000 pills, 578 weapons and 146 vehicles.

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