Pubdate: Mon, 18 Jun 2007
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Jill Taylor, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Note: Does not publish letters from writers outside area


More people died from overdoses of prescription drugs than illicit
street drugs on the Treasure Coast last year, with a spike in deaths
from the controversial pain medication oxycodone, according to figures
provided in the annual report from Florida's Medical Examiners Commission.

But so far this year, the number of methadone-related deaths are on
the rise, said Dr. Roger Mittleman, medical examiner for the district
that includes Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

Deadliest drugs

Deaths directly attributed to drug overdoses rose slightly in 2006
from the year before in the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee County. Here
are the leading causes of drug-related deaths:

Drug / 2005 / 2006

Oxycodone / 10 / 23

Methadone / 23 / 23

Cocaine / 28 / 17

Morphine / 8 / 8

Heroin / 1 / 3

Source: Florida Medical Examiners Commission

"We're getting a lot of overdoses," he said. "I think we're seeing
more methadone and less oxycodone."

Methadone, which is a powerful painkiller, tied with oxycodone in 2006
with 23 deaths each. But Mittleman said as doctors shy away from
oxycodone because of the controversy over misuse of the drug, more are
prescribing methadone for those with serious, chronic pain.

Mittleman contrasted the statistics for his district with those of the
much more populous Miami area, which reported just eight oxycodone and
10 methadone deaths last year.

"There's more methadone here per capita, more oxycodone," he said. "It
just depends on availability and popularity."

Statewide and locally, the majority of overdose deaths are accidental,
and many involve more than one drug in the victim's system.

But Mittleman said there are probably more suicides than reported
because the standards for declaring a death a suicide are often hard
to meet, even if it is suspected the person deliberately took an overdose.

Cocaine deaths dropped from 2005 to 2006, but Mittleman said he
doesn't put a lot of stock in cyclical changes in the street

"Maybe enforcement is a reason," he said, noting that while the
state-issued statistics only date back to 1992, there was an explosion
in cocaine and related deaths in the 1980s that likely surpassed
anything seen in recent years.

Morphine was the fourth-highest cause of drug overdose deaths in the
region, with eight in 2005 and 2006. Heroin deaths rose from one to
three in those years.

None of the region's prescription drug-related deaths, which increased
to 84 from 82 the year before, involved a person under age 18.
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