Only a few years ago, Florida was home to some of the most prolific pill mills in the country. Selling oxycodone and other narcotic pain relievers, the state became known as the origination point for the “Oxy Express”, the corridor of Interstate 75 where drug traffickers carried the drugs up from Florida all along the eastern seaboard.
After a severe crackdown, the state managed to stem the tide of drugs and shut down multiple storefront pill mills. Unfortunately, this success has had unintended consequences, as addicts now turn to heroin in the absence of oxy.
The Oxy Express
Before the crackdown, the statistics in Florida were unsettling. NPR noted that Florida doctors served out at least 10 times the number of oxycodone pills than every other state combined. Unscrupulous doctors would establish pain clinics in strip malls and, with just a summary examination, patients could get a prescription for high-potency pain medication.
The problem was so bad that Interstate 75 earned the unofficial title of Oxycodone Express, as massive amounts of pills traveled through the state, and into neighboring states as well. Emergency rooms along I-75 would deal daily with drug overdoses related to pain medication.
The Governor created a task force to crackdown on the problem, and it was largely successful. In just one year, they made several thousand arrests” some of which were doctors. According to Governor Rick Scott, the state used to be home to 90 of the 100 top doctors who purchased oxycodone. After the crackdown, it was home to only 13.
The problem was not completely eliminated, but it was put in check by the efforts of the task force. Officials could not longer consider Florida to be the epicenter of the illegal pain medication problem.
The state did an admirable job in eliminating the pill mills. What it did not address, however, was the huge number of oxycodone abusers left without their drug of choice. These users still needed a drug, and many turned to heroin when they could no longer find oxycodone.
Oxycodone is harder to find and more expensive now that the pill mills are gone, but heroin is readily available if one knows where to look. Mexican drug cartels are happy to provide it, and they do so cheaply.
There are reports all the way up the coast of a rise in heroin use as the Oxycodone Express dried up. From these results, it is apparent that any effective effort to combat the drug problem will need to focus on treatment as well as law enforcement. When one drug is removed, users will just find another.