Prescription drug abuse is a problem of epidemic proportions around the country. The state of Florida is the unfortunate epicenter and law enforcement officials are forced to struggle with the results.
Bay County Sheriff’s Office Captain Faith Bell is overwhelmed with the sad results of prescription drug abuse in her community. Bell runs the Bay Area Drug Gang Enforcement Squad, a unit that works to fight prescription drug abuse. Bell keeps a book on her desk filled with details about those who died from prescription drug overdoses in Bay County.
"I’m just trying to put a face to all these dead kids, which is something I’ve never had to do," Bell said. "I’ve been doing this 22 years and I never had to do it with cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy."
The epidemic seemed to come out of nowhere. Captain Bell left Panama City for three months in the summer of 2008, when there were only a few cases of prescription drug addiction. When Bell returned to town, she discovered that her neighbors were dying from the drugs. According to Bell, a big part of the problem is the amount of drugs that come into the community from the pain clinics operating in south Florida. People travel to south Florida, especially Broward County, from across the state and around the country to get large quantities of powerful and dangerous prescription drugs.
Last year in Florida, oxycodone killed 1,948 people, a jump from 716 deaths in 2005. There have been people dying from overdoses in the lobbies of pain clinics and in motels that dot the interstate. Death is everywhere. Bell has seen the sobering effects of the practice known as doctor shopping. She has seen people return to Bay County with as many as 600 pills in their pockets.
Oxycodone, roxycodone and hydrocodone are known as "hillbilly heroin."
"It is heroin. It’s a synthetic form of heroin," Bell said.
CARE is a drug treatment center in Bay County that has been overwhelmed with the influx of people needing help for prescription drug addiction. Recently, 10 of the 14 adults in the 15-bed drug treatment center were there to detox from their abuse of prescription drugs. Roxycodone has become more popular on the streets than oxycodone, primarily due to the fact that roxycodone is not a time-release drug. This means that the drug is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream than oxycodone.
"You can put a bottle of oxycontin right there and an ounce of cocaine right there and the oxycontin’s going to go ten to one," Bell said.
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