Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Public Health (Dr.PH.)

Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Raymond Harbison, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Giffe Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Marie Bourgeois, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sharon Kelley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James McCluskey, Ph.D.


mortality, illicit drug use, oxycodone, heroin, SAS


Opioids are scheduled by the propensity for misuse and abuse with a high rate of dependency and risk of fatal overdose. Opioids can be divided into different classes, including, natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic. Opiates are naturally occurring and come directly from the opium poppy plant; whereas the semi synthetics opioids are chemical modifications of the poppy plant. Synthetic opioids attach to the opioid receptor but contain no part of the poppy plant. The increased variety and frequency in opioid prescriptions contributed to an opioid epidemic in the United States which is still on going.

According to the CDC, the opioid epidemic has occurred in three waves. The first wave of the epidemic began in the 1990’s with the increase in opioid prescription pain medication overdoses. The second wave began around 2010 when heroin overdoses became more prevalent. This was followed by a sharp uptick in fentanyl deaths beginning around the year 2013, indicating the start of the third wave. The opioid epidemic has had a huge cost to society, not just due to deaths but also because of lost productivity, medical expenses and judicial system costs (Florence, Zhou, Luo, & Xu, 2016). To best design and implement strategies to combat this issue, an understanding of the population effected is needed. Since many public health policies are implemented at the regional level, knowing the characteristics and demographics of the epidemic at the local level is important. This study evaluates trends in drug related death cases in the Florida District 6 Medical Examiner Office (MEO) from the calendar years 2011 through 2016.

Specifically, it focuses on opioids and the role of fentanyl in overdose related mortality. Additional attention is given to fentanyl and fentanyl analog related deaths. Fentanyl analogs present challenges from an analytical toxicology perspective. Fentanyl analogs can be difficult to detect. Two sets of data from each calendar year were obtained from the MEO. This data was collated, standardized and then statistically analyzed.

It was determined that there was not a significant difference in month of the year or the day of the week that drug related fatalities occurred. The time of day was statistically significant with more drug related mortalities occurring during the hours of 8:00am and 4:00pm. When assessing mortality rates, Pinellas and Pasco county demonstrated differences. Pasco county has higher overall mortality for opioid related deaths. Pinellas county has almost twice the number of the opioid, fentanyl, related overdose fatalities. Racial demographics, divided into White, Black, and Asian populations, demonstrated that the White population is disproportionally affected by fentanyl drug related mortality. Binary logistic regression showed that fentanyl and heroin tend to co-occur, and that ethanol, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone do not usually co-occur with fentanyl in drug related fatalities.

These data help elucidate trends in the opioid epidemic at a regional level. There are differences between Pinellas and Pasco county; with the former having more fentanyl related drug deaths and the latter having more opioid related drug deaths over the six years analyzed. An interesting result is derived from the binary logistic regression. It is shown here that fentanyl and heroin tend to co-occur together. It is also shown that ethanol, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, and methadone do not co-occur with fentanyl related overdose cases. Notably, methadone has the strongest negative association with fentanyl related overdoses.