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Oxycodone deaths up sharply

6/30/2009 © Health News Florida

Deaths from oxycodone, the prescription painkiller suspected in the death of performer Michael Jackson, rose by 33.5 percent last year over the year before, according to the annual report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, released today.  Prescription drugs were judged the cause of death more often than illicit substances, the report says.

The worst danger zone for oxycodone deaths was St. Petersburg, which had almost twice as many people dying with the painkiller in their bodies (308) as any other district in the state. Next, with 171, was Fort Lauderdale, which has often been described as the oxycodone capital of Florida because of the many pain-pill clinics there.

"There continues to be a misunderstanding about the dangers (of oxycodone) by both the medical profession and the public," said Pinellas pharmacist Larry Golbom. Saying he hopes Jackson's death will be a wake-up call, Golbom discussed it Sunday night on his weekly radio show on prescription addiction.

The three most lethal drugs were heroin, methadone and oxycodone, the report says. Of those who died with oxycodone in their bodies, the prescription painkiller was judged the cause of death in 60 percent of cases. Only heroin was more deadly.

Oxycodone killed 941 Floridians last year, 236 more than the year before, the report says. A related drug, hydrocodone, was judged the cause of death in 270 cases.

After alcohol, the most common drug found in those who died were benzodiazepines (3,229), of which the most common was Alprazolam (1,873). (Benzodiazepenes are commonly used as sleep aids or muscle relaxers). Cocaine was third most common (1,791) and oxycodone was fourth (1,574).