Thirty-one of 75 patients hospitalized for opioid detoxification told doctors that they first became addicted to drugs legitimately prescribed for pain. Another 24 patients started their addiction with prescription pills from a friend or a parent's medicine cabinet. The remaining 20 patients said they became addicted on street drugs.
This information was reported to doctors at the University of Buffalo. Ninety two percent of the patients in the study said they recently purchased drugs off the street, primarily heroin, because it is cheaper and more effective than prescription drugs.
They told the doctors that they continued using drugs because they "helped to take away my emotional pain and stress," "to feel normal," or "to feel like a better person."
The information will be used to train medical students and residents at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and practicing physicians to screen for potential addiction among their patients, and to direct patients to a treatment program if necessary.
Abuse of prescribed drugs is the largest drug-related threat to the health and safety of Floridians. The 2009 Florida Medical Examiner's Report revealed that overdoses from prescription drugs kill seven Floridians each day. This is five times greater than deaths from all illegal drugs combined.
The explosion of pain clinics in Florida has contributed to the problem. Many of these are "pill mills" where drugs are traded for money. Florida has become popular for drug-seekers from other states to come and get a supply of prescription drugs.
According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get their supply from their friends and family. Other patients receive their prescription drugs from one physician. Many others "doctor shop" to receive their prescriptions for pain medication. Stolen, forged or counterfeit prescriptions are a common way addicts get their supply of prescription drugs.
In January, Florida convened a Statewide Prescription Drug Task Force made up of several state agencies and charged them with finding solutions to the problem. In conjunction with federal agencies, the Task Force has accelerated their attack on the criminal activity that often surround prescription drug use.
A law, SB 2272, was passed that granted greater authority for health officials to regulate the pain clinics in Florida. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program will begin in December. It will allow doctors to look at their patient's prescription history. As a result, potential "doctor shoppers" will be discouraged.