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In the US, Prescription Drug Abuse Is Called an Epidemic

Prescription drugs are suspected as a cause in Michael Jackson's death. If the autopsy's toxicology report confirms that suspicion, Jackson would be just one of many who fall victim to prescription drug abuse. Because medications are regulated differently from country to country, there are few global statistics on addiction to prescription drugs. In the United States, teenagers and young adults are reported to be most susceptible.

While the shock of Michael Jackson's death still reverberates around the world, one question remains unanswered: Did he die of a prescription drug overdose?

His nutritionist Cherilyn Lee says she repeatedly rejected Jackson's demands for a powerful sedative and told him the drug Diprivan has dangerous side effects.

"The central nervous system problems, there's memory loss. I mean the last end result of this is death. I said you don't want to do this. He said my doctor says it's safe. It works quick and it's safe," she said.

Many celebrities - including the late actor Heath Ledger and Rock King Elvis Presley - have been victims of prescription sedatives, stimulants and pain killers.

"It's not limited to celebrities. These are very common problems in the broad general public," says Dr. Wilson Compton who heads a division at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He says addiction to prescription medications is especially common among teenagers and young adults in the United States.

A prescription drug overdose took the life of 19-year-old Jason Surk. His mother, Linda, says Jason kept his drug use secret.

"It totally was a shock, I had no clue, no clue that he was abusing," she said.

Dr. Compton says the problem has become so widespread among Americans that it's an epidemic.

"They say they didn't get it from a physician directly. Most of the time they say they got it from family or friends," he said.

But Doctor George Kolodner says physicians need to be held accountable.

"The problem is there is no competency test for these doctors who are prescribing these medications. All they need to do is pay a fee and they get licensed from the ED (Drug Enforcement Agency) to do that," he said.

Kolodner runs a drug addiction clinic in the Washington D.C. area. He says doctors should have to pass a test before they can prescribe painkillers, like Percocet and Vicodin, that are derived from opium.

And there is an easier remedy.

"Get rid of the left over prescriptions in your medicine cabinet," said Dr. Compton.