Whether it’s an upper or downer, from Oxycontin to Adderall, many yearning for a high are under the deadly illusion that pharmaceutical drugs are safer than illegal substances. Subsequently, like most of the US, Los Angeles is seeing record overdoses of people abusing prescription drugs.

Prescription drug abuse has become one of the fastest-growing public health concerns in Los Angeles County (LAC). In a national study of high-school seniors, nearly one in four reported having abused prescription drugs.

National data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicate that prescription drugs (opioid pain relievers, stimulants and sedatives) are the second most-abused category of drugs after marijuana.

According to (SAMHSA) information, from 1997 to 2007, opioid painkiller-related overdose deaths in the United States rose from 2,901 to 11,499 (nearly a 300% increase) and accounted for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

Further statistics show that prescription drug abuse is such a problem in LAC that it’s now the number-one reason for emergency room visits and one of the leading causes of death. Of the 8,265 drug-related deaths between 2000 and 2009, approximately 61% were caused by prescription or over-the-counter drugs, according to the Department of Public Health.

Responding to public and government reaction to the issue, The Department of Public Health compiled data into a report in January  2013 called, “Substance Abuse Prevention And Control.” In addition to elevated levels of deaths from overdose, the report also cited increase rehab visits from victims of prescription drugs, with claims that between 2005 and 2010, publicly-funded rehab facilities reported seeing a 50% rise in treatment for prescription drug abuse.

The report focused on the most widely abused class of prescription drugs, opioid pain relievers. It found that in LAC, drug overdose is the third-leading cause of injury death and premature death.

Mortality details saw that in 2009, there were more than 650 prescription/over-the-counter (OTC) drug-related deaths as well as more than 3,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 emergency department visits in LAC. In addition, between 2005 and 2010, the number of admissions to publicly funded substance abuse treatment programs for opioid abuse almost doubled, from 674 to 1,022.

Further  results from a 2011 LAC Health Survey show that 5.2% of adults (18 and over), or an estimated 379,000, reported misusing prescription drugs in the past year.

The report and its finds were also instrumental in motivating California Senate to pass a three new bills back on May 15, 2013 to curb prescription drug abuse. They aim to combat prescription drug abuse and mounting overdose deaths in California.

Specifically, the bills help authorities track drug abusing patients as well as doctors who over-prescribe painkillers and other addictive narcotics. Another proposed bill would give the state medical board the power to immediately suspend the prescribing privileges of doctors suspected of putting patients at risk.

Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) introduced a third bill that would give the medical board more power to investigate physicians suspected of overprescribing -- and suspend their prescribing privileges. He drafted the bill after medical board investigations of alleged overprescribing doctors dragged on for months and sometimes years. At least 30 patients fatally overdosed on prescriptions written by doctors during such investigations.