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Prescription Drug Abuse: A Conversation We Should Keep Having

September 23, 2012

By Melodie Rydalch, (801) 325-3206
Public Information Officer/Law Enforcement Coordinator
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Utah

Three years ago this month, my 19-year-old nephew died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. I watched him grow from a toddler, who held hands with his little brother when they went to sleep, to a young man who loved his family, his friends, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Yankees. His gentle nature and big heart touched everyone who knew him.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2009, his big heart stopped beating. It could not survive his addiction to prescription drugs.

As the months and years have come and gone, I have come to recognize that our family is far from alone in coping with the death of a loved one from an unintended overdose of prescription drugs.

Consider these sobering statistics. Drug overdose deaths among teens 15 to 19 year olds are up 91 percent in the past decade. The vast majority of these deaths are because every day, 2,000 teens in this country are using prescription drugs for the first time for the sole purpose of getting high.

The year 2009 marked the first year that, overall, more people in the United States died from drug overdoses than from automobile accidents. This happened primarily because our nation is abusing prescription drugs at unprecedented levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose in the United States, a trend driven by prescription painkillers.

In 2003, prescription drug overdose deaths in Utah outnumbered non-prescription drug overdose deaths according to the Utah Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse Brief of February, 2012. In 2006, more Utah residents died from prescription drug overdoses than from car crashes. In 2010, prescription drugs were involved in 80 percent of all overdose deaths in Utah. Most prescription drug deaths involved prescription pain medication. Through the good work of those involved in this issue around our state, we are making some progress in turning these statistics around. We must do more.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah, where I work, is joining the Partnership at to promote its campaign called the “Medicine Abuse Project” which will launch Sept. 23-29, 2012. The project aims to prevent half a million teens from abusing medicine within five years and is a call to action for all of us. You can learn more about the initiative at or you can join the conversation using the hashtag #endmedicineabuse and following @MedicineAbuse on Twitter.

A primary focus of the initiative is to get everyone involved in preventing teen medicine abuse. It will encourage parents to have an open and honest exchange with their teenagers about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. It will focus on educating communities about the significant and largely under-estimated risks of medicine abuse.

There are steps we can take to address the problems of prescription drug abuse. Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter medication; make sure the place you store your prescriptions and medication is secure; take your medicine exactly as prescribed; and take advantage of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 5th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Sept. 29 to dispose of your unwanted and expired medicines in a safe manner.

With football under way and the baseball season headed toward the World Series, I remember how much my nephew loved this time of year. It motivates me to join others working on this issue in our communities to do everything we can to help reduce the number of Utah families touched by the death of a loved one from prescription drug overdoses.

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