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Palm Beach Post investigation reveals Florida's role in creating the heroin epidemic

Posted at 6:15 AM, Jun 28, 2018

One hundred and seventy-five Americans die a day from heroin. That's eight every hour across the country.

An 18-month Palm Beach Post investigation into the epidemic found Florida lit the match that ignited it.

"We really did have the solution in our hands as early as 2002," Pat Beall puts it bluntly. She's the Post reporter behind the investigation. 

"We (Florida) dropped the ball," says Beall. "In 2002, Purdue Pharma had offered to finance a prescription drug monitoring database, which is kind of the silver bullet for tracking doctor shoppers and people who are trying to get opioids illicitly."


But the Legislature waited more than 10 years before saying yes to this database. This helped fuel the Oxy Express.

"It's that map of roadways that people used to come from the Appalachians to Florida, stock up on illicit pills and use those highways to go back home," says Beall.

An express that became more deadly once the pills stopped. 

"I tell people all the time, I'm a hick sheriff from a hick town and it's like Mayberry on heroin basically." That's how Sheriff Keith Cooper describes Greenup County, Ky. He's just one of the dozens of people The Post met on the Oxy Express.

"Florida ignited an epidemic through years and years of neglect and indifference," says Beall.  "What we found was not only that Florida pill mill-supplied Oxy had ravaged those towns, but as soon as we turned off the spigot, then those towns were ravaged by heroin."

"The big talk was oxycontin is going off the market and the fear in everyone that was involved in that, it was crazy. I can remember the day we stopped seeing them and the very next day, heroin showed up," says Will Lockwood, a drug addict turned director of operations at The Lifehouse, a recovery center in Huntington, W.Va 

That's because people like El Chapo were waiting to pounce.

"As early as 2004, the cartel was planting poppies and they were planting poppies long before heroin became popular," says Beall. "His long bet was that the growing appetite for illicit prescription opioids and particularly oxycodone in the US, which would eventually transfer to an appetite for heroin if the Oxy went away."

That's just part of what you'll learn in The Post's investigation, "How Florida ignited the heroin epidemic." 

"Certainly Purdue had a role in it, and certainly El Chapo had a role in it, but Florida lit the match. Dave Aronberg said this will forever be Florida’s shame."