In 2011, a national heroin epidemic was the equivalent of dry tinder, lacking only a match. Florida lit it up, the Palm Beach Post reports. Purdue Pharma and El Chapo had provided kindling: The company’s unprecedented marketing campaign for its blockbuster OxyContin painkiller did not stop with pill sales. Purdue marketing helped ensure that for the first time in U.S. history, heavy doses of one of the most addictive substances known to man would be prescribed by family doctors for everything from sprained ankles to migraines. Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, long focused on marijuana and cocaine, took note of the new U.S. appetite for narcotics and began seeding mountainsides with poppy plants, the source of heroin.
For years, Florida’s repeated failure to rein in its homegrown prescription painkiller scourge nourished a bumper crop of opioid addicts and dealers. Rogue clinics in Palm Beach and Broward counties funneled OxyContin and fueled addiction in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and West Virginia. Drug Enforcement Administration reports and federal court records show that by 2010, Florida was the reliable opioid dealer of choice to users and dealers in not only the Southeast, but also in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions. When Florida finally turned off the free-flowing oxycodone spigot in 2011, drug users in states once fed by Florida oxycodone did what users in Florida did: They turned to heroin. Florida had a plan to stop the pill mill scourge. It had money to put the plan into action. Law enforcement officials knew heroin would follow the free-flowing pills. Politicians did nothing. In refusing to crack down for a decade, Florida provided more than pills. It extended by years the amount of time that OxyContin and pills containing its highly addictive ingredient, oxycodone, would be available.