Drug fight falls to teens
By Doris Bloodsworth
Sentinel Staff Writer
November 19, 2003
Gov. Jeb Bush spoke out Tuesday morning in Orlando about
runaway prescription-drug abuse, calling upon teenagers
statewide to change the culture that has led to five
Florida residents daily dying from legal medications.
"The best way to deal with this is to prevent it from
happening in the first place," Bush told the 1,500 adult
and youth counselors and educators attending the annual
drug-prevention conference at the Caribe Royale Resort
"That means the next generation of Floridians needs to
rise up and say, 'We're not going to be like our
parents. We're going to focus on the things that are
just and right and loving and wholesome.' "
Jim McDonough, head of the governor's Office of Drug
Control, said prescription-drug abuse is the biggest
obstacle to the state's goal of cutting illegal drug use
to half of its 1998 levels by 2005.
Bush also renewed his determination to stem abuse by
pushing legislators to pass a bill authorizing a
prescription tracking system.
Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut-based maker of the
painkiller OxyContin, pledged $2 million toward the
monitoring system in a Nov. 1, 2002, agreement. The
state, in turn, ended a yearlong investigation into the
company's marketing practices and promised never to sue
Purdue for actions up to that point.
"Over the last two years, Col. McDonough and I have
worked hard to pass legislation to regulate this part of
life in a better way, so we can track the folks that are
pharmacy shopping or the doctors that are
overprescribing, creating a marketplace for OxyContin
and other drugs that lead to overdoses you've read about
in this very paper, the Orlando Sentinel," Bush said.
Last month, a Sentinel investigation of 500 deaths from
oxycodone, an ingredient in dozens of painkillers, found
OxyContin was the drug identified in about 83 percent of
the 247 oxycodone cases linked to a specific medication.
In the remaining 253 oxycodone deaths, the paper did not
determine a brand-name drug.
Florida medical examiners reported last month that in
the first half of this year 392 people died from
overdoses of illegal drugs, which included cocaine,
heroin, Ecstasy and GHB. In contrast, 563 people died
from prescription drugs that included painkillers, such
as methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone, and
tranquilizers called benzodiazepines.
Statewide, oxycodone deaths rose from 122 during the
first six months of 2002 to 136 in the same time period
in 2003. Deaths from methadone, which is often used to
wean people from opioids such as OxyContin, rose from
140 in the first half of 2002 to 174 this year.
The governor and McDonough noted painkillers used
properly help thousands who depend on medication for
pain relief. As an example, Bush said he used OxyContin
after he was injured on a boat.
"I used it right, thankfully," he said.
At a news conference after his speech, Bush was asked
about his daughter, Noelle, 26, who graduated in August
from Orange County's drug-court program after a January
2002 arrest for trying to buy the antianxiety drug Xanax
with a fake prescription.
"She's doing fine, but the road to recovery is a long
one for a lot of people," he said. Bush said he and his
wife, Columba, who will lead this morning's session,
love their daughter unconditionally.
Asked whether Rush Limbaugh might benefit from the same
drug-court program, the governor said he didn't know
enough about the conservative commentator's condition to
The three-day conference is focusing on leadership and
unity among the many drug-abuse prevention and awareness
programs in Florida.
Eric Quinones, attending the conference from West Palm
Beach, said his federally funded Safe Schools program
includes prescription-drug abuse awareness and also
addresses underage alcohol problems, another focus of
Many teens spent their breaks between sessions looking
at exhibits, including one by Purdue Pharma. The Florida
National Guard had one of the most popular displays,
which featured healthy and diseased pig lungs to
demonstrate the consequences of smoking tobacco.
The demonstration showed that it took more effort to
inflate the diseased lung than the healthy one.
When the workshops continue today, about a dozen
protesters calling themselves Relatives Against Purdue
Pharma plan to rally outside the resort.
"Our main points are we want Purdue investigated, we
want OxyContin reclassified for severe pain, and we want
to make sure Palladone [a stronger narcotic from the
company] does not get approved for moderate pain," said
Ed Bisch, of Philadelphia.
Bisch started a Web site, oxyabusekills.com, after his
son Eddie, 18, died after drinking beer and splitting an
OxyContin tablet with a friend in February 2001.
Doris Bloodsworth can be reached at dbloodswort[email protected]