SARASOTA, Fla. -- Whether you have been personally affected by this or not, you no doubt know someone who has in one way or another. It's the latest crime that is sweeping the nation and is especially rampant in Florida. It's prescription drug fraud.
"Prescription drugs and schedule 2 drugs are responsible for 80 percent of the crime in this county," Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight said. "It is the new crack. The only difference is it's legal and more widespread."
Florida has a bad rap when it comes to prescription drug abuse and fraud and has even been recently been given the not-so-flattering nickname of the Oxy Express.
That was before he took office, said Knight, who has made it a personal mission to eradicate the problem from his county. When he was elected in 2008, 50 percent off all oxycodone sales were in Florida and Sarasota led the nation in per capita overdose deaths. The Florida Legislature hasn't given law enforcement officials too much ammunition in this fight, except for passing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act last year. Even so, it is full of loopholes.
That's why Knight said he decided to take matters into his own hands and immediately formed a special prescription drug crime investigative unit with grant funding. Originally comprised of just one person, that unit has now been expanded with collaboration with other agencies. It also now includes a public education aspect and Sheriff Knight can be frequently found talking to every neighborhood group and association he can find about the perils of prescription drug fraud.
He took it a step further and worked with the Sarasota County Commission to craft his own ordinance to even further eradicate the problem.
"I said you know what, we need to take matters into our own hands," Knight said. "So we drafted up and pushed through an ordinance that strengthens the pain clinic regulations and zoning laws. We now have an ordinance that is the only one if its kind in 67 counties and is the strongest in the state."
It took a year to get it "right," as Knight says, but it is now working and being modeled by other agencies across the state. Manatee County to the north just passed a very similar ordinance and the crime difference is clear.
Four years ago, oxycodone pills were $7; now they are $26.
"It comes down to simple supply and demand," said Knight. "You drive the price up and make it harder to operate and we are seeing a big difference." A difference he hopes will continue to spread across the state.
- Politics & Government
- Addiction & Substance Abuse
- Prescription drugs