Pasco County and the Tampa Bay area is the newest theater of the war on drugs because of what have become known as pill mills. As a result, the number of deaths directly related to prescription drugs, both overdoses and homicides, is skyrocketing. The new prevalence of these drugs has brought a rise in violent crimes such as assaults, robberies and home invasions.
Prescription drug abuse has become much more dangerous in our area than the abuse of so-called street drugs and is responsible for nearly three times as many deaths statewide. There were 305 prescription drug deaths in Pasco and Pinellas counties in 2009, compared to only 19 illicit drug-related deaths.
Pasco and Pinellas, according to the 2009 Medical Examiners Commission Report, ranked first among the 24 districts in the state in deaths caused by oxycodone, diazepam, hydrocodone and methadone, and second to Fort Lauderdale in deaths attributed to alprazolam and propoxyphene and second to Hillsborough in deaths caused by morphine.
There are more than enough statistics to illustrate how dangerous the abuse of these drugs has become, but the statistics don't tell the heartbreaking stories of the countless broken homes and devastated families. It is our responsibility as state, local and community leaders to end this crisis.
The Legislature has taken steps to close down these pill mills and stop the prescription drug trade, most recently with the passage of SB 2272/HB 225.
This legislation limits the amount of pain pills dispensed to those making cash payments to a maximum 72-hour supply, makes it a felony if the clinic fails to register with the state and significantly increases the regulatory environment for pain management clinics.
This, however, is only one step in dealing with this problem. More action must be taken. Many counties and municipalities, including Pinellas and Pasco, are enacting moratoriums and passing even more stringent regulations to protect residents.
Lack of action by officials on all levels anywhere in our state will allow the illegal prescription drug trade to flourish. Local governments should follow the lead of those who have adopted strict regulation on the pill mill industry and should strictly enforce local ordinances and state regulations.
One thing history has taught us, crime will flow to the path of least resistance. No area of our state should be plagued by this terrible new epidemic.
It is up to our entire community, working together, to drain the swamp and shut down inappropriate access to and street trade of prescription drugs.
If you see or are suspicious of illegal prescription drug trading, please contract our local Sheriff's Office. Florida should be known for its sunshine and friendly people, not its prescription drug problem.
John Legg of Port Richey represents District 46 in the Florida House of Representatives.