Special Reports

9 Investigates: Fatal prescription drug overdoses increases

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Deaths from prescription drug overdoses have skyrocketed in North Carolina.
In three years, that number is on pace to overtake the number of motor vehicle deaths, which is currently the No. 1 cause of death in the state.
Attorney General Roy Cooper said law enforcement has seen a new trend: More teens becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
Diane Woodward lost her eldest son to a prescription drug overdose eight years ago. Four years ago, she lost her youngest son to his addiction.

She said the pain and sense of loss never go away,

“Now, all I have left are the graveyards. I don't get to hug my children at Christmas. I don't get to have birthday parties. We don't have Thanksgiving dinners. I just have a graveyard to go to,” she said.

Woodward said her son Matthew first started taking prescription pain killers around age 18.

SEE MORE images of Matthew and Brandon Woodward
A star athlete, Matthew injured his back playing high school football. Eventually, he went to a doctor for relief. That relief turned into addiction, and the 25-years-old he died from a methadone overdose.
"These were good boys. I know a lot of people want to judge the addict but they're good kids," Woodward said.

Four years later, Woodward walked into her youngest son's bedroom and her heart broke again.  A state wrestling champion, Brandon had struggled with his own addiction. He had gone to a party and mixed two prescription painkillers.  He was 26.

Woodward tearfully remembers.

"I went in there that morning. Brandon was lying there on the floor. I just could not believe my baby was gone." -- mother Diane Woodward

In just 13 years, deaths from accidental prescription drug overdoses have increased more than 300 percent in North Carolina.
In 1999, the number was 297.
In 2012, it was 1,104.
More men than women die of accidental overdoses.

"We have more people dying from accidental prescription drug overdoses than we do cocaine, heroin and alcohol overdoses combined." -- Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Cooper said what's especially concerning is more teens are abusing prescription drugs, and many parents don't know how addictive those drugs can be.
"We need targeted education efforts from parents and grandparents to lock up their prescription drugs," Cooper said.
North Carolina uses the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which allows doctors to check if a patient has multiple prescriptions for the same drug.

The state is also increasing its law enforcement efforts.
"There are a number of agents who work exclusively in trying to find those who are diverting prescription drugs for illegal uses," Cooper said.
Woodward says even though it's painful to remember, her reason for sharing this story is simple, "Maybe this message right here will save one person."
Seventy-five percent of teens get prescription pills from their home or a friend's home.
Cooper said the state is also working with pharmaceutical companies to make drugs with less addictive ingredients.
The state has also implemented laws that require identification to pick up certain prescription drugs.

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