Heroin overdoses have continued to rise across Florida, and preliminary studies show that the drug may have killed up to 50% more people in 2014 than it did in 2013. Orange County, Florida saw the number of deaths from heroin overdose increase from 26 in 2013 to 36 by the beginning of December.
Heroin addiction isn’t just an urban problem like it has been in the past. Now, rural and suburban neighborhoods across Florida are seeing heroin deaths increase. Many experts see a connection between rising heroin deaths and prescription drug abuse.
In 2010, Florida’s government began taking action to close down pill mills and reduce the over prescription of opiates after some experts had called Florida’s drug environment an “epidemic.” By creating a prescription drug database, the government was able to see which patients were “doctor shopping, the process of going to multiple doctors to get more prescriptions written than you medically need. The government was also able to discourage doctors themselves from over-prescribing the drugs. It even incarcerated some doctors who prescribed drugs that weren’t needed.
While these steps helped the prescription drug overdose rate to fall quickly, the new actions didn’t address the demand from users for opiates. Since opiates are some of the most powerful and addictive drugs available, addicts often found other ways to get their fix. The main prescription drug substitute they chose was heroin.
The advantages of using heroin for former prescription opiate abusers are obvious. On the street, a single pill of OxyContin can sometimes go for more than $20, while the equivalent dose of heroin cost only about $5. In addition, heroin distribution from South America has increased, making the drug available in many neighborhoods where it had never been found before. This new heroin has appealed to users who are afraid of needles because it is pure enough to snort or smoke.
As heroin continues to grow in popularity, more overdoses will take people from their families and friends. If Florida wants to stop this trend, it will take much more work than simply jailing a few doctors and starting a database. Luckily, for individuals who are addicted to heroin or prescription drugs, there is still hope.