TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - For the first time in a decade, there has been a drop in the number of people who died from a prescription drug overdose in Florida.
A report released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that shows an encouraging trend for 2011 but there is some bad news in the 54-page report as well.
Most drug overdoses come not from taking heroin or crack, but from otherwise legal prescription drugs. An average of seven Floridians die every day from prescription drugs. So the report out of Tallahassee showing a nearly 6 1/2 percent drop in those deaths was press conference worthy.
"We have so far to go in this fight against drugs, but these numbers in such a short time are truly remarkable," said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi credits the Prescription Drug Task Force that closed hundreds of pill mills that attracted addicts and doctors from around the country. She pointed out that overdoses from the most dangerous drug, Oxycodone dropped sharply by over 17%, saving nearly 200 lives.
"Obviously that's good news, though it's late for our Emily," said Roberta Rifkin.
Emily was the daughter of Roberta and David Rifkin who was featured in a special report, "If I Die Young," produced by ABC Action News along with the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year.
More: Watch the special about the prescription drug epidemic, If I Die Young, in its entirety at http:// wfts.tv/ NUYk3l .
Emily died in a halfway house at the age of 25 from an overdose of Oxycodone in 2010. Her parents applaud the state's efforts, but know the illicit trade in legal drugs is resourceful.
But the FDLE report compiled through medical examiner reports indicate overall drug overdoses are up when you include street drugs. And while Oxycodone abuse is down, deaths from the class of drugs that includes Valium and Xanax are up 13 percent.
That comes as no surprise to St. Joseph's emergency room doctor, Ebrahim Karkevandian.
"They do compromise. They start with the highest potency drug like Dilaudid or Oxycodone, they go down the line," said Dr. Karkevandian.
Many believe Florida lawmakers could do more to save lives by strengthening the new prescription drug monitoring law.
Doctors and pharmacists can now access a statewide database to identify people who fill multiple prescriptions to sell or use themselves. But because it's largely voluntary, few doctors or pharmacists are using it.
"I think it should be mandatory. I believe it would save lives and could have saved Emily's," said David Rifkin.
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