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Pill Mill Crackdown Has Addicts Switching to Heroin

February 21, 2013 | WMFE - The state of Florida has been successfully cracking down on so-called "pill mills" for the last two years, but there are unintended consequences. Police and drug treatment professionals are reporting a rise in heroin use in Central Florida, as prescription painkillers become harder for addicts to obtain.

Three years ago, there were an estimated 900 storefront pain clinics in the state. The following year, that number had been cut in half. State law enforcement officials say they have seen a sharp drop in sales of Oxycodone, the most widely abused prescription painkiller. 

Treatment professionals say some people who are addicted to drugs like Oxycodone find those clinics closed and turn to the streets, where prices for the pills have tripled or quadrupled. Ultimately, some turn to drugs like heroin, says Todd Dixon of Orlando's Center for Drug Free Living. 

He says the group’s treatment center has seen more people seeking help for heroin addiction.

"Individuals who were addicted have two choices - they seek treatment, or they change to a more readily available drug, and that eventually leads to heroin and other opiates," Dixon says.

Law enforcement officials say Mexican drug cartels have apparently stepped up production and distribution to make heroin that "more readily available drug" in central and south Florida.

Dixon says the abuse of prescription drugs has caused a number of overdose deaths, but he believes heroin use can be even worse, because the illegal substance is only available from street dealers and there is no way to know how powerful - or toxic - a given dose might be.

He says addicts who try to quit using heroin without help face agonizing and possibly deadly withdrawal symptoms.

"Opioid withdrawal without medical care is dangerous," Dixon says. "It’s very easy for the individual to either end up in the emergency room or die."

He says people who formerly got their pain drugs at a pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription may find themselves prowling potentially dangerous streets looking for heroin.


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