For the first time in history in the State of Florida, more people died from overdoses of prescription drugs than from illegal drugs. This statistic reported in the June 8, 2002 St. Petersburg Times came from a report of the 24 medical examiners in Florida for the year 2001. The article noted that there were 939 cases where lethal levels of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, methadone and Vicodin, or benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax or Valium were found. The 939 cases in 2001 more than tripled the 284 cases in 2000.
Jim McDonough the Florida drug czar said the rise in prescription drug deaths shows a need for better monitoring of prescription narcotics. However this idea was rejected this year by the Florida Legislature. McDonough, director of the governor’s Office of Drug Control, said the abuse of oxycodone, the main ingredient in OxyContin and numerous other painkillers, continues to be worrisome. He commented, “It’s a drug abuse that came out of no place. There was an epidemic growth.”
The article reported that Florida deaths related to oxycodone and its chemical cousin, hydrocodone, rose 45 percent in 2001 compared with 2000. They did note that after doctors and the public became aware of the growing death toll, those deaths dropped 14 percent during the last six months of 2001. The total number of prescription related drug overdose deaths in Florida for 2001 was 939 compared to 714 deaths due to illegal drugs in the same time frame.