PRESCRIPTION DRUGS TOP ILLICIT DRUGS IN DEATHS
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.
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 drug-of-choice.
"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. [/FONT]