Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a strong report card on her dogged war on drugs here in Bradenton at Wednesday's Manatee Bar Law Day Luncheon. On Thursday, she and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey issued a detailed look at the decline in prescription drug-related deaths around the state.
While the numbers are promising, they are still too high.
A few years ago when Florida stood in the grip of unscrupulous doctors and pharmacies that primarily served drug addicts and dealers, Tallahassee was paralyzed by politics and inaction -- wholly unable to write laws to curb the abuse and the seven deaths a day from opiods.
Bradenton led the way here with a crackdown on the pill mills, adopting strict regulations that forced closures. Manatee County followed suit.
The Legislature finally got the message and enacted several laws in 2010 that crippled the illicit trade -- this after seven years of failure.
With that historic perspective, today the state has made solid progress in reducing prescription drug abuse.
Deaths related to those one or more of those narcotics were identified as the cause of death or present in the decedent in 2,363 fatalities from January through June 2013, a drop of 1.46 percent from the prior six months in 2012.
In 975 of those 2013 cases, the prescription drug was found to be the cause of death, 2.89 percent less than the 2012 figure.
Of illicit substances, heroin deaths fell 6.8 percent with 99 percent classified as accidental. Cocaine deaths rose 7 percent. Methamphetamine was found in 12.5 percent more cases during those first six months of 2013.
The crackdown on prescription drugs is pushing the market elsewhere, and Bondi cited the most troubling side effect at Wednesday's gathering here.
Synthetic drugs that can combine acid, LSD and heroin were on the open market -- sold widely in convenience stores -- until Bondi signed an order outlawing sales. But here again, unscrupulous clerks will deliver the goods under the table.
Those awful drugs feature names meant to appeal to youngsters, including "scooby-doo" and "cotton candy." Families should be very wary about these dangerous concoctions.
This new scourge is now covered with dismaying statistics in the state report. Synthetic drugs killed 30 individuals in the first six months of 2013, and another 77 people perished with the drugs in their bodies.
The state report also breaks down statistics by medical examiner's offices. For the one serving Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties, Oxycodone caused 20 deaths in the reporting period, with 11 in decedents over the age of 50.
The region's five heroin fatalities only occurred in combination with other drugs, scattered among age groups.
As we opined earlier this month, Bondi single-handedly saved one of the state's key weapons in combatting prescription drug abuse. Here again, the Legislature failed the people by not funding the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program during the recent session.
The online database allows doctors to verify that patients have not been collecting multiple scripts in a medically unnecessary time frame, thus abusing or selling the narcotics.
Bondi bailed out the program by committing $2 million, money out of a 2008 drug fraud settlement. With the database operating on $500,000 a year, Bondi's pledge will keep the program running for four years.
Bondi's sharp focus on curbing drug abuse serves Florida well.