As St. Petersburg / Clearwater criminal defense attorneys, we are in a unique position to observe various “trends” in our local Pinellas County Criminal Courts. On past occasions, we have posted articles regarding the increase in retail thefts, utility thefts, and the rising number of women arrested for DUI. Over the past several years we have noticed a steady and consistent climb in the number of criminal cases involving the trafficking, sale, or possession of oxycodone.
The widespread problem of oxycodone addiction and the corresponding increase in criminal prosecutions involving this prescription drug did not arrive here overnight. Instead, a number of factors have conspired over the past decade and a half to cause this powerful and addictive substance to become the “drug of choice” for many people. As a result, the number of deaths from oxycodone overdose have seen a sharp increase, both in Florida and nationwide. The Pinellas criminal justice system has approached the increasing scope of the problem through a continuation of the traditional “war on drugs” system of mandatory drug trafficking penalties while simultaneously using the rehabilitation and treatment opportunities found in drug court. This blog article will attempt to shed some light on how oxycodone came to be one of the most commonly abused controlled substances in Pinellas County, if not the United States.
The Aggressive Marketing Campaign of Purdue Pharma
OxyContin is the brand name of the painkiller first manufactured and introduced into the United States by Purdue Pharma in 1996. Purdue aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors as a safe, effective, and non-habit forming painkiller. The pharmaceutical company also encouraged doctors to instruct their patients to take OxyContin every 8 hours instead of every 12 hours, as was approved by the Federal Food & Drug Administration. Ultimately, in May, 2007, the company was forced to pay $19.5 million in fines for the improper marketing campaign. Federal court charges levied against three Purdue Pharma executives resulted in a $634 million fine for misbranding OxyContin as having “less euphoric and less abuse potential” than was truly the case. When one considers that just a single year of OxyContin sales brought Purdue Pharma over $2.5 billion, the punishment appears rather negligible.
Nevertheless, it would appear that Purdue Pharma’s aggressive “off-label” marketing campaign had the intended effect. Between 1997 and 2005, the sale of oxycodone in the United States increased six-fold. OxyContin is the number one best selling non-generic narcotic painkiller in the United States today. In 2006 alone, 1.4 million prescriptions were written for OxyContin. As a result, OxyContin is widely available and widely prescribed. Unfortunately, the highly addictive properties of the substance has likely translated into a proportionally large number of people who now have an addiction to a prescription narcotic. Many of these people were prescribed OxyContin legally, but may not have been adequately warned about the potential for abuse and addiction by their physician. Consequently, when their prescription ran out, they were forced to turn to doctor-shopping or the black market in order to maintain their addiction.
The Infamous “Black Box” Warning Label
OxyContin carried a boxed warning in the package insert that warned users against chewing, crushing, or dissolving the tablets because doing so would cause a “rapid release” of the drug. Many speculate that the warning was counter-productive and encouraged users to abuse OxyContin. Further, the black-box warning itself was responsible for spreading the information on the best method for increasing the intensity and immediacy of OxyContin’s euphoric, heroin-like effects. As a result, it is not unusual to find that many people addicted to OxyContin snort or even inject crushed tablets in order to achieve a powerful and quick high. Sadly, abuse of this nature places these individuals at great risk for overdose. Even leaving out the risk of death, this behavior can certainly accelerate the addiction into an unmanageable need.
In some cases, users of OxyContin turn to the use of roxicodone which is the “instant release” form of oxycodone. Unlike OxyContin, roxicodone need not be crushed or snorted in order to achieve the quick acting effects of the substance. However, the use of roxicodone can be just as addictive as OxyContin.
Florida’s Pill Mills
For many years, Florida was thought of as the “Pill Mill Capital of America.” The loose regulatory climate combined with a large number of doctors helped contribute to the growth of storefront pain clinics as a “cottage industry” in the state. These pain clinics often write prescriptions for OxyContin after just a cursory examination of the patient. Some individuals would present to these clinics with bogus physical ailments in order to obtain a prescription for OxyContin. Thereafter, they would sell the pills on the street, hoping to turn a profit. Others turned to pain clinics to maintain an addiction after their primary physician refused to continue to prescribe the painkiller. The ultimate result was to flood the state with a cheap and widely available narcotic. As this happened, the number of deaths from overdose continued to rise, with over 900 deaths from oxycodone in Florida during 2008.
In June, 2009, Governor Charlie Crist signed a law establishing a prescription drug monitoring database. The database is designed to track prescriptions issued and to prevent doctor shopping. Proponents of the monitoring program claimed that it would also prevent pain clinics from over-prescribing narcotic medications and allow the identification of pill mills. However, the database has not been implemented yet, and the Florida Department of Health has until the end of 2010 to do so. The lawyers in our office anticipates that when the database finally goes online, the number of arrests and prosecutions for prescription fraud and doctor shopping will skyrocket.
Have You Been Charged with a Oxycodone / Oxycontin / Roxicodone Drug Related Offense?
We are St. Petersburg / Clearwater criminal defense attorneys who possess a great deal of experience in handling criminal cases involving the trafficking, sale or possession of oxycodone and roxicodone. We are likewise experienced in the defense of prescription fraud (Fla. Stat. 893.13(9)) and doctor shopping cases (Fla. Stat. 893.13(7)) that involve controlled substances such as OxyContin. Through our focus on exclusively handling criminal cases in Pinellas County, we have developed a thorough understanding of the legal issues that are common features in such cases within our local court system. We also recognize and can address the issues that arise in drug cases where addiction has played a major role in motivating the offense. As a result, we believe that we can offer you constructive advice and design a strategy that is focused on avoiding conviction, avoiding jail, and obtaining drug treatment.
Contact our office for a free consultation at (727) 578-0303
1/29/2010 - Update! The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office created a new unit within its ranks called the "Narcotics Strategic Diversion Unit" targeted specifically at the illegal distribution and possession of prescription drugs. This unit works with local, state, and federal law enforcement to track potential cases of doctor shopping and identify so-called pill mills. Detectives within the PCSO claim that arrests for these prescription drug related offenses have tripled in the past year, while the number of charges has increased by more than 500 percent. As mentioned previously on our blog, we anticipate that the prescription drug database that will go online this year to increase the number of people arrested and charged even further. (Source: St. Petersburg Times 1/2010)