WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) -- Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy are just a few who have passed away at early ages due to drug overdoses, which included prescription drugs.
A research letter published today highlights the problem of prescription drug overdoses in America.
Drug overdose deaths have more than doubled from 1999 to 2010, according to the research letter, "Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010," in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
For 11 straight years, drug overdose deaths have increased. In 2010 alone, over 38,000 people died from a drug overdose in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The main culprit? Prescription drugs.
Pharmaceutical drugs were responsible for 60 percent of overdose deaths in 2010, according to the CDC.
And the most dangerous prescription drugs? Opioid analgesics.
Opioids are drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone. These drugs were linked to about 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths in 2010, according to the CDC.
Also at the center of the problem: prescriptions for mental health conditions. "Patients with mental health or substance use disorders are at increased risk for non-medical use and overdose from prescription painkillers as well as being prescribed high doses of these drugs," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
The government is taking steps to combat the rise of drug overdoses. For example, the government is encouraging the development of formulas and products to prevent and treat abuse and overdose.
And states are getting involved as well. Besides education, states are beginning to improve drug monitoring programs, take action against inappropriate prescriptions and improve accessibility for substance abuse treatment.