David and Gail Katz of Highland Park, Il., whose son Daniel died of an OxyContin/cocaine overdose in 2007, has made a full-time job of educating teens and their parents about prescription drug abuse, the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem, says the Chicago Sun-Times. Deaths from unintentional drug overdoses in the U.S. have increased five-fold over the last two decades, claiming more lives than any other type of accidental injury except car accidents, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Largely driving the trend is rampant misuse of prescription drugs, particularly painkillers such as OxyContin (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone) and fentanyl. Abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more overdose deaths in 2007 than heroin and cocaine combined, the CDC says. Rates of treatment admissions for abuse of painkillers and other non-heroin opiates rose 345 percent nationwide between 1998 and 2008, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Five years ago, 70 percent of the people we saw here were heroin addicts. Today, 70 percent of the people we see are prescription drug users,” said Jake Epperly of New Hope Recovery Center. Prescription painkillers, known as opioids, are synthetic versions of opium used to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain. In excess quantities, these drugs can suppress a person's ability to breathe. They're especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Experts say too many people, especially teenagers, mistakenly think that prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street drugs.