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Oxycodone deaths drop in Florida; in Miami-Dade accidental prescription drug deaths increase

The number of drug-related deaths in Florida rose slightly last year, but authorities saw a drop in the number of deaths caused by prescription drugs, according to findings released Wednesday.

However, the number of deaths blamed on cocaine, heroin and the powerful cancer pain medication Fentanyl all went up.

In Miami-Dade County, the number of accidental deaths caused by prescription drugs went up 14 percent, from 71 to 83. In Broward, the deaths declined but remained high, dropping from 198 to 165.

The figures were part a report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement built on information from every medical examiner in the state. It detailed the number and types of drugs found in people who died in Florida last year.

Overall, alcohol continued to be the most popular substance found in drug-related deaths, the report said. Prescriptions drugs continued to cause more deaths than illegal drugs.

And the number of people who died overall in drug-related deaths climbed, just a bit, by 134 people. It went from 9,001 in 2010 to 9,135 in 2011. But the number of cases in which people died because of prescription drugs dropped.

The decrease comes as state and local authorities have worked to crack down on illicit “pill mills,” where prescriptions for drugs like Oxycodone are often given with little care and few questions asked.

In one year, from 2010 to 2011, the number of people who died with a fatal amount of prescription drugs in their systems fell 6.37 percent. The number who had prescription drugs in their system, and it may or may not have caused death, dropped 2.8 percent.

And Oxycodone deaths dropped more than 17 percent.

“We have so far to go in this fight against drugs, but these numbers to us, in such a short time, are truly remarkable,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said.

Locally, Oxycodone caused 37 deaths in Miami-Dade, 100 deaths in Broward and 10 deaths in the Florida Keys last year.

Since the creation of seven regional drug enforcement strike forces in March 2011, authorities said they have made more than 3,300 arrests, seized 785,000 pills, confiscated almost $10 million in cash and shut down 254 pill mills.

Bondi said the drastic decline in Oxycodone-related deaths, from 1,516 to 1,247, or a 17.7 percent drop, was cause to celebrate. “We were surprised at how fast the legislation actually worked,” Bondi said.

Despite the big drop in Oxycodone deaths, it remains popular. It was still the second most found substance in drug-related deaths, second only to alcohol, with detection in 2,128 cases. Of those cases in which Oxycodone was found, it was the cause of death close to 59 percent of the time.

FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey also acknowledged that the report showed there was still much to be accomplished in reducing the number of deaths involving other drugs, both legal and illegal.