“I’ve never seen a drug problem as severe as the one we’re facing now,” said Pinellas County, Fl., Sheriff Jim Coats, who has spent almost 40 years in law enforcement. “It touches all walks of life.” Coats was one of about 100 law enforcement officers from west-central Florida who attended a prescription drug summit Tuesday, says the St. Petersburg Times. The conference was sponsored by Purdue Pharma, a Connectitcut-based pharmaceutical company that makes powerful pain medications including Dilaudid and OxyContin.
In the Tampa Bay area, prescription overdose deaths doubled from 339 to 681 from 2005 to 2009. Last year, 179 people overdosed on prescription drugs in Pinellas County – an average of one person every 49 hours. The number of overdose deaths, the number of drug diversion cases and arrests in Pinellas County also have grown over the past two years. Drug diversion refers to cases where prescription drugs are diverted for recreational or illicit use. The Sheriff’s Office made 243 drug diversion arrests in 2009, compared to 83 the year before.