A combination of a high concentration of doctors, loose state regulations and lax oversight by law enforcement has helped contribute to South Florida's reputation as America's "pill mill capital," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported July 19. For the first time, the prescription drug oxycodone, not cocaine, has been identified as the most lethal drug in Florida, according to state medical examiners and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. More than 900 fatal overdoses occurred statewide in 2008.
Broward and Palm Beach County are at the center of Florida's "perfect storm" of prescription drug abuse, with fatal overdoes related to oxycodone increasing by 20 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to state authorities. The two counties had a combined total of 221 deaths related to oxycodone last year. With pharmacies on almost every block, and law-enforcement agencies focused on violent crimes, the two affluent and suburban counties are considered to be perfect breeding grounds for the booming painkiller market. Other factors include a number of people relapsing from addictions to painkillers at the scores of nearby rehabilitation centers, and dealers who travel to South Florida to buy pills to resell elsewhere. Despite the economic downturn, some 90 pain clinics have opened in Broward County and Palm Beach since 2008, according to the Sun Sentinel. Some cities are responding by exploring ways to prevent more clinics and pharmacies that fill prescriptions on demand from opening in the area. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation in June that seeks to close the existing loopholes in regulating and monitoring pain clinics; however, it will take a few years to establish the mandated prescription-monitoring program.