Faced with a public health crisis, lawmakers attacked the problem with rigorous anti-pill mill legislation that drastically limited who could dispense narcotics and broadened penalties for pill mill operators. They also established a statewide prescription drug monitoring system that kept pill poppers from doctor shopping.
By the summer of 2011, Gov. Rick Scott was at a news conference in Miami touting the dwindling supply of pills coursing through Florida, more than 1,000 arrests and millions in cash confiscated. The eventual void in the streets without much focus on treatment and recovery led those addicted to look elsewhere for their high. Enter heroin, a drug that cost, on average, as little as a tenth or a quarter of the price of some prescription pills. The price for 30 milligrams of oxycodone jumped from about $10 to roughly $30 last year, according to recovery experts.
The state of Florida took dramatic action to reduce the supply of diverted prescription medications in addressing the epidemic, but until we provide adequate treatment resources for individuals to end their addition, the drug may change but the problem wont stop, Hall said.
Couple the low pricing with a hard-to-shake opioid addiction and heroin was primed for a comeback.
The supply went away. The demand did not, said FDLE special agent supervisor David Gross. For the heroin trafficker, the circumstances made business quite lucrative.
At the Novus Medical Detox Center, the number of patients coming in for heroin addiction has increased over the past two years, jumping from less than 1 percent of the total client population in 2011 to 3 percent in 2012 to 7 percent in the first quarter in 2013.
We had an individual recently receiving treatment who had been using prescription pain medication for a condition he had. He abused it. Then his doctor cut him off but he was addicted. He was at his local fitness center and a trainer introduced him to a heroin dealer, said Kent Runyon, executive director of Novus in New Port Richey. He transferred the addiction.
But officials are fighting back.
In February, Browards substance abuse commission and the Sanford-Brown Institute, a for-profit college in Fort Lauderdale, hosted a workshop to share the news about heroin. And the commissions board of governors, which include Morel and Hall, has met twice this year and formed a task force to put together an anti-heroin community campaign. Castillo said the task force is studying efforts in North Carolina and New Mexico, the latter a state particularly hard-hit by young, suburban heroin users. The group is also working to spread the word about the risks of heroin, including dirty needles that can spread disease. It is also publicizing a law aimed at encouraging fellow drug users to call authorities when they witness an overdose.
The 911 Good Samaritan Act, which went into effect in Florida last year, protects callers from prosecution for possession or ingesting low-level controlled substances under some circumstances.
Its imperative that we remain committed to fighting the overall drug problem in our state, said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. While prescription drug-related deaths are down for the first time in nearly a decade, we will remain vigilant in protecting Floridians from drug abuse as the drug of choice changes.