prescription drug abuse

Drew was in his early 30s. His medical history included alcohol abuse, but he had been sober for several months when he became my patient.

His previous doctor had given him a prescription for Ativan, or lorazepam, which is frequently used to allay tremors and seizures from alcohol withdrawal.

Seven years after a U.S. senator cited him as a national example of aberrant practices, the onetime top prescriber of antipsychotic drugs in Florida’s Medicaid program is in federal custody awaiting sentencing on fraud charges.

The prescription drug abuse problem has spread to nearly every corner of society in Florida. In 2014, 2,062 Floridians died from prescription drug overdose — a 7.6 percent increase from 2013.

People who are victims of drug abuse cannot be categorized into a particular socio-economic class or region, but are found in every segment of the population. Recently, addiction rehabilitation treatment centers throughout South Florida have noticed a rise in the number of seniors being treated for opioid addiction.

Three decades ago, the treatment Michele Zumwalt received for severe headaches involved a shot of the opioid Demerol. Very quickly, Zumwalt says, she would get headaches if she didn't get her shot. Then she began having seizures, and her doctor considered stopping the medication.

"I didn't know I was addicted, but I just knew that it was like you were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen," she says. "It was that scary."

Broader Strategies Necessary To Counter Painkiller Over Prescribing, Researchers Say

Dec 15, 2015
Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

There’s a prescription drug abuse problem sweeping the United States, but fixing it will require a systematic change focused on how most health professionals prescribe drugs, rather than changing the practices of a few bad apples.

Most Americans See Personal Tie To Rising Prescription Painkiller Abuse

Nov 24, 2015
Associated Press

The growing abuse of prescription painkillers now touches home for a majority of Americans, according to a poll released Tuesday.


  Xavier Francesco Medlin is only 11-days-old and detoxing from prescription drugs. His mother Hillary Medlin gazes down on him as she gives him a bottle, and baby Xavier starts to scream.

Broward Sheriff's Office

A South Florida man who owned pain management clinics in Fort Lauderdale and Tucker, Georgia was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in a $15 million pill mill operation, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

Stethoscope and gavel against a white backdrop.
Wikimedia Commons

A northeast Florida doctor has been indicted by a federal grand jury for causing a patient's death by selling an illegal combination of pain medications.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says 56-year-old Russell Sachs is being charged with four counts, including of dispensing and distributing controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose.

The indictment says Sachs gave out morphine, which led to the death of a patient.

'Telehealth' Compromise Moving Closer

Feb 18, 2015
Florida Senate

 Key senators said Tuesday they are moving closer to agreement with the House on a plan to bolster the use of telemedicine --- or, as lawmakers call it, "telehealth."

The Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a telemedicine bill (SB 478) that included changes intended to bring the Senate and House versions closer together.

University of Washington Health

For more than 40 years, there’s been a drug that can stop a heroin overdose in its tracks, if someone gives the drug in time.  

And it turns out that the same drug works for patients who overdose on prescription painkillers such as morphine or OxyContin --drugs called opiods because they mimic the action of opium.

Patient advocates say many deaths from accidental overdoses of prescription painkillers or heroin could be averted simply and at little expense if there were wider distribution of a drug the drug called nalaxone,  or its better known brand name of Narcan.

Pharmacies Limit Legitimate Paid Meds

Nov 18, 2014

The state of Florida recently endured a terrible epidemic; prescription drug abuse. Approximately 7 persons died daily in our state from prescription drug overdoses. This was fueled by the proliferation of “pill mills” that dispensed millions of units of oxycodone, carisoprodol, and alprazolam.

Pharmacies were also involved the dispensing of these drugs. Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy were fined tens of millions of dollars by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for violating rules and regulations for dispensing controlled substances.

Thirty-year prison sentences were given to the husband-and-wife owners of what officials say was Tampa’s largest pill mill operation, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

New laws and a continued crackdown on corrupt doctors helped reduce Florida’s prescription drug deaths significantly a few years ago. However, a new plague has broken out and needs to be addressed as well, the Orlando Sentinel editorial board reports.

Prescription drug deaths decreased during the first half of 2013 compared to the same period the year before.

The report released Thursday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Attorney General Pam Bondi showed that the most significant drop in prescription drug deaths was in those caused by oxycodone and alprazolam.

Combined, the two drugs caused 731 deaths in the first half of 2012. That was reduced to 548 deaths in the first half of last year.

 A crackdown on Medicare fraud in South Florida is pushing illegal prescription drug trafficking north, federal investigators told a U.S. Senate Committee.

The Senate Committee on Aging learned that groups are moving north of Miami, the epicenter of prescription drug trafficking, and into the Treasure Coast and Central Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports..

A new report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that a heroin “epidemic” is growing in South Florida, citing an increase in deaths. Public-health officials worry that teen-agers and young adults who are shooting the drug are too young to remember the spread of HIV and other diseases through shared needles.

A Tampa-area man has been sentenced to 34 years in  prison for sex trafficking  on Wednesday after a federal judge ruled that it wasn’t necessary for the defendant to physically beat those under his control, the Tampa Bay Times reports (paywall alert).

Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office

A former West Palm Beach doctor has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the narcotics overdose deaths of two patients, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. John Christensen, 61, also operated clinics in Port St. Lucie and Daytona Beach. His Florida medical license has already been revoked, state records show.

A children’s clinic in Sarasota is tackling the long term care and supervision of local babies born addicted to prescription pills with a follow-up clinic that is one of the first of its kind in the state.

Most babies born addicted to pain killers only get special treatment during the first few weeks after they’re born.

Typically, doctors and nurses wean them off opioids—sometimes using morphine—and then send the babies home.

The Columbus Dispatch

Urban Outfitters, a retail chain known for carrying humorous, yet sometimes controversial products, is under the spotlight for its “Prescription Line.” Attorney General Pam Bondi and 22 other AGs wrote a letter to the store asking them to stop all sales of products that mimic prescription pill bottles and pads, saying that the products “undermine” the efforts to combat prescription drug abuse, the Miami Herald reports.

Workers' compensation consultant Joe Paduda, who has been attending the Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, said it's too bad there aren't more comp executives and actuaries there. He writes on his website Managed Care Matters that they need to wake up to the toll that prescription painkillers are taking.

Orlando Sentinel

Although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration won’t confirm that it is investigating shipping companies in its effort to reduce prescription drug abuse, both FedEx and UPS say their shipments from online pharmacies have been targeted, the Orlando Sentinel reports.  

What’s the difference between a street-level dealer who gets caught with a few pain pills, and a doctor who may have written hundreds of prescriptions? According to legal observers, the street-level dealers often face long prison sentences, while the doctors who can afford high-priced attorneys might escape with just probation, the Orlando Sentinel reports.