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For the first time in history, more Americans are dying from drug-related causes than in auto accidents. According to a recent study by the CDC, in 2009, drugs killed more than 37,000 men, women and children—or roughly one person every 14 minutes. Contrary to what many people assume, the majority of drug-related deaths are not caused by illegal or street drugs, but by prescription drugs—especially prescription narcotics, which are not only addictive but can be very dangerous when taken at the same time as other drugs or with alcohol.

Among the most commonly abused are OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma. One relative newcomer to the scene is Fentanyl, a painkiller that comes in the form of patches and lollipops and is 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Such drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

In some ways, prescription drugs are more dangerous than illicit ones because users don’t have their guard up, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Opferman, head of a county task force on prescription drug-related crimes. "People feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor," Opferman said. "Younger people believe they are safer because they see their parents taking them. It doesn’t have the same stigma as using street narcotics."–LA Times

It’s not just young people who are overdosing on prescription drugs, but people of all ages, races and backgrounds. Anyone who is prescribed a narcotic painkiller or other addictive medication—even for something as simple as a strained back—can get addicted or accidentally take too much.

Not surprisingly, this alarming rise in drug deaths corresponds exactly to an equally steep rise in doctors prescribing painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. The CDC has found that enough narcotics are prescribed every year to medicate each and every adult in America every day for a month.

What is not clear is how we are going to reduce the number of drug deaths. Now that we’ve become aware of the widespread problem, we must work to institute sensible, effective measures to help keep people from getting addicted to or accidentally overdosing on prescription drugs. But what are some examples of these? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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