Bucking a statewide trend, accidental deaths caused by prescription drugs increased about 17 percent last year in Collier County, new data show.
Forty-one people died in accidental prescription pill deaths last year in Collier, compared to 35 in 2010. The 17.1 percent increase was slightly higher than Miami's increase of 16.9 percent, according to a recently released Florida Medical Examiners report.
"We did go up a little bit here, and I really don't know why that is," said Lt. Harold Minch of the Collier County Sheriff's Office special investigations unit. "The clear trend now is that the pills are tailing off and your regular illicit narcotics are taking their place."
Among the different prescription drugs, oxycodone proved the deadliest, causing 30 deaths in Collier County in 2011.
Accidental pill deaths also rose from 51 to 58 — 13.7 percent — in Glades, Hendry and Lee counties, which are grouped together in the report.
Across the state, accidental prescription drug deaths declined 10.7 percent last year.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott attributed the decrease to Statewide Drug Enforcement Strike Force teams he created in March of 2011 and an effort to close loopholes that allowed illicit doctors to overprescribe and dispense prescription drugs.
"Within two years of establishing our prescription drug abuse efforts, Florida has seen a decrease in prescription drug deaths for the first time in nearly a decade," Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement.
In Collier, Lt. Minch said the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program — a database that tracks when controlled substances are prescribed and dispensed — is the "No. 1 thing that helped us."
"It's the biggest reason we don't have the major problem we used to," he said. "Pharmacists are just not dispensing it to people that are questionable."
With the new regulations, Minch said the street value of one 30mg pill of oxycodone has tripled to nearly $50. Even the undercover detectives have had trouble buying it, he said.
"Our dealers have gone back to selling cocaine and other things in their place," Minch said.
Cocaine-related deaths in Collier rose from 13 in 2010 to 23 last year, the highest number since 2007.
Another recent trend is the re-emergence of heroin, which has caused no deaths in Collier County since 2008. FDLE data shows heroin deaths peaking in the county in 2002, when nine people died from its effects.
"It's coming back," Minch said. "It's the first time in a long time we've seen it here. The pill trend has left us with opiate addicts, and that's your heroin."
Minch said Collier authorities have also heard about a new club drug called 25i that is geared toward younger users. But drug users in Collier County traditionally stick to narcotics like cocaine and marijuana, he said.
"Typically, the countrywide fads are very short-lived here," he said. "We never saw a huge methamphetamines problem here … there's so much other stuff available."
Minch said people can help law enforcement by properly disposing of their unused prescription medications and getting educated about the effects of narcotics.
"The only way we're going to get out of this is education," he said.