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Prescription drug deaths rise in Florida

Florida continues to see a rapid rise in fatal overdoses caused by prescription-drug abuse — a trend fueled by a cottage industry of cash-only pain clinics — while deaths from illegal drugs wane, according to a report from the state's medical examiners released Tuesday.

Nearly 1,000 deaths were caused in 2008 by the potent painkiller oxycodone — a 33 percent increase from 2007, the report says. Four years ago, only 340 deaths statewide were attributed to oxycodone, the most popular drug in the black-market pill trade supplied by pain clinics.

Conversely, deaths from cocaine overdoses declined by 23 percent, to 648 in 2008.

Overall, prescription drugs accounted for 75 percent of the drugs found in overdose victims last year, the report says.

"The magnitude and severity of prescription drug abuse calls for strong, coordinated action," said Bill Janes, the director of the state's Office of Drug Control, in a written statement.

Florida took a step in that direction when the Legislature passed a law creating a statewide database to monitor prescription sales and increasing oversight of pain clinics, which operate with little scrutiny.

The prescription database is designed to detect addicts and drug dealers buying pills from multiple doctors – often by faking ailments or medical records – a practice known as "doctor shopping."

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