Officials See Doubling of Rx Overdose Deaths

From 2001 to 2005, more than 32,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses.

ByABC News
May 20, 2009, 3:44 PM

May 23, 2009— -- Once an active teenager, Jeremy Glass got hooked on pain killers at the age of 15 after injuring his knee playing football for his high school team.

"It was a nightmare," his mother Cyndi Glass said. "We never knew what to expect. He just wasn't the same kid."

In their five-year struggle the family spent more than $100,000 on treatment, but none of it worked.

Finally, one night when he was unable to obtain painkillers, Jeremy was so desperate for a high that he tried heroin.

It was a decision that ended up killing him. Jeremy Glass died of a drug overdose Sept. 8, 2008, at age 20.

But the Glass family is hardly alone. On Wednesday, the government revealed for the first time just how pervasive and dangerous prescription drug abuse has become when it released a report on the threat posed nationally by the problem.

More than 8,500 died in 2005, the last year for which data is available. From 2001 to 2005, 32,153 people died of prescription drug overdoses, and the number of deaths more than doubled during that time frame. And prescription drug abuse is most prevalent among 18- to 25-year-olds.

The report, from the National Drug Intelligence Center and the Drug Enforcement Administration, took reports and data from law enforcement agencies and public health entities to examine the threat posed by prescription drugs in this country.

"Nearly one-third of individuals who began abusing drugs in the past year reported their first drug was a prescription drug: 19 percent indicated it was a prescription opioid," or prescription painkiller, the report found. "Thus, one in five new drug abusers are initiating use with potent narcotics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone."

"Unintentional deaths from these painkillers exceeded those of cocaine and heroin, and they exceeded the deaths… from gunshot wounds," drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said at a press conference Wednesday.