Volume 50, Issue 1 (January 2005)
One Hundred Seventy Two Deaths Involving the Use of Oxycodone in Palm Beach County
Oxycodone is a potent semi-synthetic narcotic prescribed for the management of pain. Previous investigators have reported that the abuse of oxycodone is most frequently seen in conjunction with the abuse of other drugs, although fatalities have been reported with oxycodone alone. We undertook a retrospective review of cases investigated by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office in which postmortem toxicologic studies indicated the presence of oxycodone. A total of 172 consecutive cases were studied, including 18 in which death was attributed to oxycodone toxicity, 117 to combined drug toxicity, 23 to trauma, 9 to natural causes and 5 to another drug or drugs. The postmortem blood concentrations of oxycodone overlapped among the groups. The mean blood oxycodone concentration among the cases of oxycodone toxicity was 0.69 mg/L, combined drug toxicity 0.72 mg/L and trauma 0.62 mg/L. Concentrations were lower in cases of deaths attributed to natural causes and to another drug or drugs (mean each 0.087 mg/L). Benzodiazepines, detected in 96 cases, were the most common co-intoxicants in the cases of combined drug toxicity, followed by cocaine, which was found in 41. The most frequently encountered benzodiazepine was alprazolam. This study confirms that deaths in which oxycodone is a factor are most commonly cases of combined drug toxicity. The high incidence of alprazolam as a co-intoxicant has not been previously recognized.