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Region’s most deadly drug: Oxycodone

MANATEE -- Oxycodone was the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties in the first half of 2010, a statewide report revealed Thursday.

The powerful pain-killer was blamed for 46 deaths in the first half of 2010, up from 27 -- or 41 percent -- during the same period in 2009, according to the report.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Medical Examiners Commission released the report examining 89,800 deaths in Florida between January and June of this year.

Of those deaths, 4,150 people were found to have died with one or more prescription or illicit drugs in their bodies.

After oxycodone, the substances most responsible for drug-related deaths in the first half of this year in the 12th Medical Examiner District, which includes Manatee County, included: alprazolam (38 deaths), methadone (25 deaths), cocaine (20 deaths), diazepam (11 deaths), morphine (five deaths), hydrocodone (four deaths), propoxyphene (one death) and heroin (one death).

“It just shows you how available OxyContin is compared to heroin and hydrocodone. There’s a certain element in availability and why we’re seeing an increase,” said Mary Ruiz, president of Manatee Glens, a treatment facility that serves about 3,000 adults annually for addiction.

According to the report, 18 people between the ages of 26 and 34 in the 12th district died from oxycodone overdoses. In the 35-50 age group, there were 17 deaths.

On average, most people who come to Manatee Glens with addiction issues are in their mid-30s to 40s. With prescription drug abuse, the age groups have been pushed lower, Ruiz said.

“It’s discouraging, but it’s not surprising. We have less time to get to these people and to help them,” she said.

The number of deaths linked to most drugs increased, with the exception of hydrocodone and heroin, which decreased, and propoxyphene, which stayed the same.

Local law enforcement has seen the effects of increased abuse of prescription drugs.

As of last week, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Bradenton Police Department had made 478 arrests for crimes related to prescription drugs this year -- up from 330 arrests in all of 2009.

Statewide, the drugs that caused the most deaths were oxycodone (715); all benzodiazepines (597) with alprazolam, also known as Xanax, (439) accounting for a majority of deaths; methadone (336); ethyl alcohol (270); and cocaine (250), according to a released statement.

“Medical Examiners Commission report for the first six months of 2010 continues to show the lethal consequences of the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs,” Bruce Grant, director of the Office of Drug Control, said in a released statement. “This new drug crisis rivals the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. We must get agencies at all levels of government along with our communities and our medical professionals to step up and take action.”

In many cases, multiple drugs were found in decedents’ bodies, according to the report, showing people sometimes died from a combination of drugs.

Statewide, 2,579 people died with one or more prescription drugs in their system, according to the report.

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